THE REPUBLIC OF EAST TIMOR BECOMES ASIA’S NEWEST NATION ON MAY 20, 2002

 

1.      BACKGROUND:

A.     LOCATION

B.     GEOGRAPHY

C.     ECONOMY

D.     POPULATION

2.      CULTURES AND LANGUAGES

3.      HISTORY AND POLITICS

 

1.      A.

East Timor : Timor Timur (Indonesian); Timor Leste (Portuguese); Timor Loro Sa’e (Tetum)

 

        Located on the eastern half of the island of Timor (western part belongs to Indonesia)

        Territory also includes 2 small islands: Jako and Atauro and enclave Oekussi on the Indonesian side of Timor

        Capital City is Dili.

        Total area is 14,874 km2 or about 9000 mi2

1.      B.

        Mostly rugged and arid terrain with mountains rising to 2963 m (about 9721 feet) at Mount Tata Mailau in the center plateau. Mount Ramalau is yet another important mountain

        Highlands are covered with sandalwood and other tropical tress and the lowlands are mainly scrub and grassland with coconut and eucalyptus trees.

        The climate is tropical with an average temperature of 80F (25C); however there is great variation since in coastal regions temperatures get as high as 95F (33C) while in the high mountains it may remain relatively cool (70F daytime and 35F night time)

1.      C.

        The main economy is based on agriculture – the cultivation of dry rice fields, coffee, maize, tobacco, copra, various tubers (yams).

        Sandalwood is another important economic item along with pearl fishing

        Currently there are plans to develop tourism and also several American and Australian Oil companies are fighting over the exploitation of East Timorese oil in the sea bed between Timor and Australia….(East Timorese will see a small fraction of the income to help their economy). Also several donor countries are committed for the next decade to sponsor various development projects on the island

1.      D.

        The population is approximately 800,000 almost evenly distributed between males and females

        The average life expectancy for mlaes is 55 years and for females 58 years

        The population also includes a small fraction of people who are not ethnically East Timorese: including Chinese merchants and Indonesians who married East Timorese

        While the majority of the population are Roman Catholics, Buddhist and Muslim minorities are also present. Also Catholicism is syncretized with aspects of the traditional religions (mainly animism).

2.      East Timorese population is very diverse in terms of the number of different cultural and linguistic groups present. Indeed the pre-colonial and colonial history is punctuated by a lot of tribal warfare and feuds

 

MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS:

        MAMBAI

        TETUN

        KEMAK

        FATALUKU

        GALOGI

        BUNAK

 

MINOR GROUPS: SEVERAL

 

LANGUAGES:

        Lingua franca: Tetun since the second half of the 19th century

        Currently the language issue is an explosive topic in context of nation building. Officially Portuguese, Tetun, Indonesian and English are recognized with a major push for Portuguese (manipulation by former colonial power who is also one of the major donor nation)

        The ethnic languages can be divided into two major language families:

1.      Austronesian languages: Mambai (over 80,000 speakers), Tetun, Ema (kemak), Galoli and minor languages with 200 or less speakers: Habu, Kairui-midiki, Nauti

2.   Papuan languages belonging to the Trans-New Guinea Phylum: Bunak and Fataluku and minor languages : Adabe and Maku’a

 

3.      East Timorese do have a complex history and many of the current problems and issues can only be understood in terms of a careful study of pre-colonial, colonial and Indonesian occupation periods

        Pre-colonial times: complex ritual, marriage and economic alliance among the various clans of the Tetun, Bunak and Kemak ethnic groups that are spread over an area that now is divided by a national border between Indonesia and East Timor. These groups belonged to the Wehale kingdom of Timor with the entire island’s spiritual center of Laran, the capital of the Wehale kingdom. (politically most contentious area of East Timor is this western part due to the complex alliance structures continuing to present times, inspite of  a border; region where in Balibo the Australian and New Zealand journalists are murdered during Indonesian invasion in 1975 and also the region where in 1999 highest level of militia activity)

         Colonial period: by the early 16th century (1520) the Portuguese arrive in Timor and set up their bases in Oekussi and in Dili. The sandalwood trade drew them into the area since they were unsuccessfully in getting in on the spice trade.

        The Dutch are also present in west Timor’s Kupang region who also want in on the lucrative sandalwood trade as well as expanding their regions of slave trade

        The Timorese are caught between the Dutch and Portuguese struggle over the island

        By 1777 the two powers unofficially regarded Timor as two provinces, western belonging to Dutch influence and eastern belonging to Portuguese influence

        In 1846 a treaty of demarcation began to be negotiated between the two powers; negotiations concluded in 1854 and ratified in 1859

        The finalization of the treaty was concluded in The Hagues on 17 August 1916 which officially recognized a border between West and East Timor

        The East Timorese were not too complacent with Portuguese colonial masters and a number of revolts have been recorded; for example, between 1847-1913 the Portuguese had to mount more than 60 armed expeditions in order to subdue the Timorese. Interestingly a number of these revolts occurred in the western part of East Timor.

        The Portuguese mainly governed through the local rulers or kings called the liruai

        During WW II. the Japanese occupied East Timor; thousands of East Timorese aided the Australian troops in fighting the Japanese

        East Timor remained a Portuguese colony until 1975; by which time the Portuguese have much neglected this particular colony and were letting go of their other colonies

         By November 1975 a civil war broke out in East Timor as various political parties were juggling for power in anticipation of independence….much aided by the Indonesians who already had plans to take over the territory with the blessing of the Australian intelligence community and especially the CIA. One of the most prominent parties was socialist and in the Cold War atmosphere and fear of the domino effect in Southeast Asia this made sense (cf. Vietnam war).

        On November 28, 1975 the civil war ended and the FRETILIN party declared Independence

        Independence was very short lived since 9 days later the Indonesian forces invaded East Timor.

        In 1976 Indonesia incorporated East Timor as their 27th province. Indonesian sovereignty was not recognized by the East Timorese nor the United Nations!

 

Indonesian occupation: During the 24 years of Indonesian occupation the Indonesian language became official and young people were indoctrinated in state ideology as well as many roads and other infrastructure being established in East Timor. The Indonesian army continued to brutalize the population and from the early days of occupation over 200,000 East Timorese died. The local economy was controlled by Indonesians and some East Timorese loyal to them (again western region and Baccau district are significant). According to Amnesty international women were systematically raped by Indonesian, especially soldiers, until late 1980s – a form of  ethnic cleansing. Freedom fighters called the FALINTIL however continued to wage a guerilla war against Indonesian occupation from their mountain jungle hide outs. Ramos Horta and Bishop Xiemenes Belo continue diplomatic course to attract international attention to atrocities (Nobel Peace Price winners in 1997).

        1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili carried out by the Indonesian army

        1992 due to international pressure the Indonesian military inquiry condemns local army action but gives lenient sentences to lowly soldiers

        1993 FALINTIL leader, XANANA GUSMAO, is captured by Indonesian army and is jailed.

        1998 August with major political changes occurring in Indonesia (ousting of President Suharto) international negotiations begin between Portugal, UN, and Indonesia to allow a plebiscite in which the East Timorese people can decide whether they want independence or remain with Indonesia under special autonomy

        1999 May 5 agreement is signed between the 3 parties and planning for the popular consultation are under way. The Indonesian military begins the training and organization of militias in East Timor –their function is to wage terror on civilians in order to persuade them for an autonomy vote instead of independence….by end of May over 30,000 refugees fled the terror to Kupang. Murder, abductions, burning of villages continue at the hands of militia and often covert Indonesian soldiers right up to the popular consultation on August 30 1999. …often including threats of western election observers and journalists. Inspite of the murderous terror on election day 99% of the voters turn out and 78.5% vote for independence. This is followed by blood shed as the militias go amok with the support of the Indonesian police and military. Over 1/3 of the population were herded like cattle across the border to Indonesian Timor and until the UN repatriation efforts succeeded people lived in overpopulated, disease filled, malnourished and militia controlled refugee camps. As UN peacekeepers are allowed in after a month of extermination and complete destruction of infrastructure Indonesia withdraws from East Timor and the new fledgling of a nation comes under the governance of the UNITED NATIONS TRANSITIONAL ADMINISTRATION OF EAST TIMOR.

 

ON THE ROAD TO FULL INDEPENDENCE: during UNTAET administration certain basic structures are put in place along with a variety of political training and beginnings of development projects through a number of international NGOs as well as donor nations. In 2001 East Timor undertook the first democratic election of an 88 member  Constitutional Assembly with national and regional representatives. FRETILIN party wins election by taking 55 of the 88 seats. By February 9, 2002 this new parliament wrote and approved the Constitution of the New Nation of the Rebuplic of East Timor. A parliamentary system with a President and Prime-minister. On April  14, 2002 XANANA GUSMAO became the first president elected, while Mari Alkatari, the leader of the majority party FRETILIN is the prime minister. The president is a symbolic position with no real political power. On May 20, 20002 East Timor will become officially independent and will be released from UN administration. While UN personnel will remain to advise, they will be there in a much reduced capacity. UN peacekeepers will remain. And nation building begins in earnest.


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