East Timor - History

The Portuguese settled East Timor in the sixteenth century. Colonialism lasted for more than four hundred years and gave rise to an export trade in valuable sandalwood, coffee and sugarcane.

In 1974, a newly democratic Portugal opted to shed its remote colonies in Africa and the Far East. After four centuries of Portuguese governance, East Timor was encouraged by Lisbon to become an independent nation. The Portuguese withdrawal happened the following year with such suddenness that the widespread collapse of all systems of government quickly followed. East Timor was quickly overcome by factional in-fighting between rival political groups vying for power.East Timor History - Steven Horne official website

Following months of covert destabilization operations, the Indonesian Government launched a full-scale air, land and seaborne invasion of East Timor in December 1975. It was claimed that this invasion was an effort to restore peace and order and to thwart a possible Communist takeover in the territory. The more cynical commentators would hold the view that the annexation of East Timor had more to do with the rich oil and gas reserves in the offshore deposits known as the Timor Gap.

In the years that followed the invasion, Indonesian security forces were brutal in asserting control over the territory, which was formally annexed by Jakarta in 1976 and declared to be the 27th Province of Indonesia. Many Timorese were killed in the fighting or died as a result of the famine and total collapse of utilities and public health services.

In the mountains of Timor, a bitter and unforgiving guerrilla war continued to rage on unabated until 1998, when a change of government and a collapsing Indonesian economy hastened a policy shift on the question of independence for East Timor. Following a series of talks facilitated by the United Nations, Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement to allow the East Timorese to vote at last on their future in a UN-monitored referendum. In the lead-up to the poll, there was widespread violence and killings initiated by pro-Indonesian militias covertly backed by Indonesian security forces.

On 30 August 1999, despite the terror tactics and death threats of the militias, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. In the wake of the vote, the anger of the pro-Jakarta militias and their Indonesian military supporters exploded in a bloody rampage and a ‘scorched earth’ campaign of epic proportions. Tens of thousands of East Timorese were forced to flee their homes and entire towns and villages were razed. Many Timorese were tortured and killed.East Timor History - Steven Horne official website

An international military intervention force arrived in September 1999 to bring a halt to the violence. The first peacekeepers to land found a burning and devastated landscape. Approximately 300,000 East Timorese had become refugees and had been moved across the border into Indonesian-controlled West Timor – most were later thought to have been forcibly evacuated for use as hostages by the militias. Much of the territory lay in ruins and the militia groups responsible disappeared into the mountains or hid in the refugee camps across the border in Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

In October 1999, the Indonesian Parliament finally endorsed the results of the referendum and nullified the 1976 annexation of East Timor. This led to a United Nations presence in East Timor to guide the territory toward full independence and to build infrastructure to facilitate self-governence.

At midnight on the 19 May 2002, Timor-Leste became the world's newest nation, formally ending nearly twenty-five years of violence and oppression which caused the deaths of an estimated 200,000 East Timorese. Approximately one in three East Timorese are thought to have lost their lives during the occupation.East Timor History - Steven Horne official website

Today, Timor-Leste continues to suffer from the after-effects of the long struggle for independence. Despite its wealth of natural resources, it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with scarce infrastructure and a population still traumatised by the long years of terror and oppression.


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