East Timor - Tips

East Timor Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
June 2007

Background Note: East Timor

Fishermen haul in their net in the
Dili harbor, East Timor, April 10,
2007. [© AP Images]

Flag of East Timor is red, with a black isosceles triangle (based on the
hoist side) superimposed on a slightly longer yellow arrowhead that extends
to the center of the flag; there is a white star in the center of the black


Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Area: 15,007 sq. km.
Cities: Capital--Dili; Baucau.
Terrain: Mountainous.
Climate: Tropical; hot, semi-arid; rainy and dry seasons.

Nationality: Noun--Timorese; adjective--Timorese.
Population (2005): 947,000.
Religion: Catholic 96.5%.
Languages: Portuguese, Tetum (official languages); English, Bahasa Indonesia
(working languages).
Education: Literacy--43%.
Health: Life expectancy--47.9/51.8 years (male/female). Child mortality rate
(under 5)--91/69 (male/female) per 1,000 population.

Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence (from Portugal): November 28, 1975.
Restoration of independence: May 20, 2002. (See History section.)
Constitution: March 2002.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of
government), cabinet. Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--Supreme
Court and supporting hierarchy. As the Supreme Court has not yet been formed,
the Court of Appeal functions, on an interim basis, as the Supreme Court.
Major political parties: Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor
(FRETILIN), Democratic Party (PD), Social Democratic Party (PSD), Timorese
Social Democratic Association (ASDT), Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), and
Klibur Oan Timor Asuwain (KOTA).

GDP (2005 est.): $335 million.
GDP per capita (nominal): $354.
GDP composition by sector: Services 54%, agriculture 32%, industry 15%.
Industry: Types--coffee, oil and natural gas.
Trade: Exports--coffee, oil and natural gas. Major markets--Australia,
Europe, Japan, United States. Imports--basic manufactures, commodities. Major
sources--Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Japan, United States.

East Timor is located in Southeast Asia, on the southernmost edge of the
Indonesian archipelago, northwest of Australia. The country includes the
eastern half of Timor island as well as the Oecussi enclave in the northwest
portion of Indonesian West Timor, and the islands of Atauro and Jaco. The
mixed Malay and Pacific Islander culture of the Timorese people reflects the
geography of the country on the border of those two cultural areas.
Portuguese influence during the centuries of colonial rule resulted in a
substantial majority of the population identifying itself as Roman Catholic.
Some of those who consider themselves Catholic practice a mixed form of
religion that includes local animist customs. As a result of the colonial
education system and the 23-year Indonesian occupation, approximately 13.5%
of Timorese speak Portuguese, 43.3% speak Bahasa Indonesia, and 5.8% speak
English, according to the 2004 census. Tetum, the most common of the local
languages, is spoken by approximately 91% of the population, although only
46.2% speak Tetum Prasa, the form of Tetum dominant in the Dili district.
Mambae, Kemak, and Fataluku are also widely spoken. This linguistic diversity
is enshrined in the country's constitution, which designates Portuguese and
Tetum as official languages and English and Bahasa Indonesia as working

Portuguese and Dutch traders made the first western contact with East Timor
in the early 16th century. Sandalwood and spice traders, as well as
missionaries, maintained sporadic contact with the island until 1642, when
the Portuguese moved into Timor in strength. The Portuguese and the Dutch,
based at the western end of the island in Kupang, battled for influence until
the present-day borders were agreed to by the colonial powers in 1906.
Imperial Japan occupied East Timor from 1942-45. Portugal resumed colonial
authority over East Timor in 1945 after the Japanese defeat in World War II.

Following a military coup in Lisbon in April 1974, Portugal began a rapid and
disorganized decolonization process in most of its overseas territories,
including East Timor. Political tensions--exacerbated by Indonesian
involvement--heated up, and on August 11, 1975, the Timorese Democratic Union
Party (UDT) launched a coup d'état in Dili. The putsch was followed by a
brief but bloody civil war in which the Revolutionary Front for an
Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) pushed UDT forces into Indonesian West
Timor. Shortly after the FRETILIN victory in late September, Indonesian
forces began incursions into East Timor. On October 16, five journalists from
Australia, Britain, and New Zealand were murdered in the East Timorese town
of Balibo shortly after they had filmed regular Indonesian army troops
invading East Timorese territory. On November 28, FRETILIN declared East
Timor an independent state, and Indonesia responded by launching a full-scale
military invasion on December 7. On December 22, 1975 the UN Security Council
called on Indonesia to withdraw its troops from East Timor.

Declaring a provisional government made up of Timorese allies on January 13,
1976, the Indonesian Government said it was acting to forestall civil strife
in East Timor and to prevent the consolidation of power by the FRETILIN
party. The Indonesians claimed that FRETILIN was communist in nature, while
the party's leadership described itself as social democratic. Coming on the
heels of the communist victories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the
Indonesian claims were accepted by many in the West. Major powers also had
little incentive to confront Indonesia over a territory seen as peripheral to
their security interests. Nonetheless, the widespread popular support shown
for the guerilla resistance launched by the Timorese made clear that the
Indonesian occupation was not welcome. The Timorese were not permitted to
determine their own political fate via a free vote, and the Indonesian
occupation was never recognized by the United Nations.

The Indonesian occupation of Timor was initially characterized by a program
of brutal military repression. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the
occupation was increasingly characterized by programs to win the
"hearts-and-minds" of the Timorese through the use of economic development
assistance and job creation while maintaining a strict policy of political
repression, although serious human rights violations--such as the 1991 Santa
Cruz massacre--continued. Estimates of the number of Timorese who lost their
lives to violence and hunger during the Indonesian occupation range from
100,000 to 250,000. On January 27, 1999, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie
announced his government's desire to hold a referendum in which the people of
East Timor would chose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence.
Under an agreement among the United Nations, Portugal, and Indonesia, the
referendum was held on August 30, 1999. When the results were announced on
September 4--78% voted for independence with a 98.6% turnout--Timorese
militias organized and supported by the Indonesian military (TNI) commenced a
large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retribution. While pro-independence
FALINTIL guerillas remained cantoned in UN-supervised camps, the militia and
the TNI killed approximately 1,300 Timorese and forcibly relocated as many as
300,000 people into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country's
infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems,
and schools, and nearly 100% of the country's electrical grid were destroyed.
On September 20, 1999 the Australian-led peacekeeping troops of the
International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) deployed to the country,
bringing the violence to an end.

East Timor became a fully independent republic with a parliamentary form of
government on May 20, 2002, following approximately two and a half years
under the authority of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor
(UNTAET). The country's first parliament was formed from the 88-member
Constituent Assembly chosen in free and fair, UN-supervised elections in
August 2001. The FRETILIN Party won the majority of Assembly seats. Mari
Alkatiri, FRETILIN's Secretary General, became the first Prime Minister, and
the country's 29-member cabinet was dominated by FRETILIN. Xanana Gusmao was
elected in free and fair elections on April 14, 2002 as President. UNTAET's
mandate ended with East Timor's independence, but a successor organization,
the UN Mission for the Support of East Timor (UNMISET), was established to
provide additional support to the government. UNMISET's mandate expired on
May 20, 2005 after the UN Security Council unanimously approved the creation
of a small special political mission in East Timor, the UN Office in East
Timor (UNOTIL), to take its place.

Under the constitution ratified in March 2002, "laws and regulations in force
continue to be applicable to all matters except to the extent that they are
inconsistent with the Constitution." Many Indonesian and UNTAET laws and
regulations remain in effect, but are being gradually replaced by East Timor
laws. During the period from December 2004 to September 2005, the government
held local elections in all 13 districts. East Timor witnessed its largest
and longest political demonstration in April and May 2005 when several
thousand protestors took part in a protest about a broad array of religious
and political issues led by the Catholic Church that lasted 20 days. The
demonstration ended peacefully with the signing of an agreement between the
Catholic Church and Prime Minister Alkatiri that resolved several key issues
of disagreement.

Despite the winding down of the UN presence in the country, the institutions
comprising East Timor's armed forces (F-FDTL) and police (PNTL) remained
fragile and the authority of the state much more tenuous than most observers
assumed at the time. In February 2006, approximately 400 military personnel
(from a total military strength of 1,400) petitioned President Gusmao to
address their complaints of discrimination against "westerners" or Loro Monu
people by "easterners" or Loro Sae people in the military. Shortly after
presenting their petition, they left their posts and approximately one month
later were dismissed by the F-FDTL commander. In late April the petitioners
group staged protests in Dili. On April 28, the protests turned violent.
Citing ineffective police response, the government called in the armed forces
(F-FDTL) to respond. The rioting and the police and military response
resulted in six confirmed deaths. In response to the events of April 28,
large numbers of people began to flee their homes for internally displaced
persons (IDP) camps or the outlying districts and several members of the
F-FDTL, including the commander of the Military Police, left their posts in
protest of the military intervention.

During a FRETILIN Party Congress in mid-May 2006, Prime Minister Alkatiri was
re-elected as Secretary General after his supporters successfully amended the
party constitution to substitute secret ballots with an open vote. Against
this political backdrop, a series of deadly clashes between the F-FDTL and
forces comprising dissident military, civilians and some police took place on
May 23-24, followed by deadly conflict between the F-FDTL and the PNTL on May
25. In the aftermath of these clashes, which effectively caused the
dissolution of law and order, mob and gang violence took over the capital,
resulting in additional deaths, widespread destruction of property, and the
continued displacement of thousands of Dili residents.

At the peak of the crisis, approximately 80,000 IDPs were in the districts
and approximately 70,000 were residing in camps within Dili. The U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) and international relief organizations
provided vital services to the camps that included water and sanitation
facilities, camp management support, hygiene kits, and mosquito nets. USAID
also supported East Timor's independent public radio and television broadcast
services in order to ensure that reliable and timely information about
current political events reached East Timor's citizens. On May 28, the
Government of East Timor requested the Governments of Australia, Malaysia,
New Zealand, and Portugal to send security forces to stabilize the country.
By July 2006 there were approximately 2,200 international military and police
officers in East Timor.

During June 2006, there was increasing pressure on Prime Minister Alkatiri to
resign as criticisms of his handling of the crisis mounted. Moreover, serious
allegations emerged that he had been involved in illegal arms distribution.
In June, former Minister of Interior Rogerio Lobato was arrested on the
charge of distributing the above-mentioned weapons and placed under house
arrest. Following President Gusmao's public request that the prime minister
step down, accompanied by a threat to resign himself if Alkatiri remained in
office, Alkatiri resigned on June 27. Anti-Alkatiri demonstrations, which
kicked off on June 28, with most participants coming from the western
districts, turned into partial celebrations following the prime minister's
resignation and lasted for several days. Similar numbers of demonstrators
entered Dili from the eastern districts the following week to voice support
for Alkatiri and the ruling FRETILIN party.

After President Gusmao held consultations with the leadership of the FRETILIN
Party, Jose Ramos-Horta--East Timor's Foreign and Defense Minister in the
Alkatiri government--became Prime Minister on July 10. Prime Minister
Ramos-Horta's new cabinet was sworn in on July 14, 2006. Ramos-Horta said the
"immediate task of his Government is to consolidate security in Dili and in
all of Timor-Leste and to put in place the necessary conditions to enable
displaced Timorese to return home and rebuild their lives."

As requested by the Government of East Timor, the UN Security Council passed
resolutions to roll over the small UN political mission, UNOTIL, until August
25, 2006 while its members considered the mandate of a larger follow-on UN
mission to help East Timor overcome its crisis. The United States coordinated
closely with members of the Core Group on East Timor (Australia, Brazil,
Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, and the United Kingdom) and the EU to obtain
approval of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which provides
for a UN-led policing component of up to 1,608 personnel. UNMIT's mandate,
set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 1704 approved on August 25, 2006,
calls for the UN mission to assist in restoring stability, rebuilding the
institutions comprising the security sector, supporting the Government of
East Timor in conducting the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections,
and achieving accountability for the crimes against humanity and other
atrocities committed in 1999, among other aims. UNMIT's mandate is currently
in force through February 2008. (UNMIT's own website provides additional
information: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unmit/ )

Although security in Dili has been significantly improved in comparison to
the violence and anarchy that reigned in May and June, neither the
establishment of a new government nor the expansion of the UN mission has
reduced the levels of violence and criminality to their pre-April 2006
levels. Indeed, in October, shortly after the UN Special Commission of
Inquiry issued its report on responsibility for the security crisis of
April-June, Dili experienced a surge of violence that led to several deaths
and the closure of the international airport for a day. While the
overwhelming majority of the current violence is Timorese-on-Timorese
perpetrated by gangs or martial arts groups, foreign nationals have also been
targeted. Differences between Loro Sae and Loro Monu have subsided and been
overtaken by long-standing conflicts between members of competing groups,
including martial arts groups and semi-religious sects. While much of the
current fighting reflects a continuing lack of law and order underscored by
the absence of judicial accountability, many observers note that communal and
gang violence has been employed in many cases toward political ends.

As of June 2007, over 28,000 displaced persons remain in 29 camps in and
around Dili, representing over 4,000 families, 45% of whom have houses that
have been destroyed. Over 2,000 houses have been destroyed, and many more
damaged. Another 70,000 or so IDPs remain in the outlying districts. Numbers
of displaced persons remain essentially unchanged from late 2006. November
and December 2006 featured public efforts by the Timorese leadership to
foster a spirit of reconciliation--particularly among members of the armed
forces and the police--but key issues remain outstanding, including the lack
of resolution of the petitioners' case and the continued presence of armed
military dissidents. Police functions in Dili are currently under UN control,
while members of the PNTL are being gradually reintegrated into city policing
following vetting for criminal or ethical violations. UN officials and other
observers expect the reform of the country's security sector to be a
long-term challenge.

East Timor held presidential elections in the spring of 2007. On April 9,
voters chose from a slate of eight candidates. With a voter turnout of almost
82%, the top two finishers were the FRETILIN candidate Francisco "Lu-olo"
Guterrres, who received 28% of the vote, and Jose Ramos-Horta, who stepped
down as Prime Minister to run as an independent candidate with the
endorsement of former President Xanana Gusmao. Ramos-Horta received 22% of
the vote. Because the electoral law requires that a candidate win a majority,
a second round was held on May 9. Ramos-Horta, who received the backing of
all but one of the parties fielding candidates in the first round, won by a
landslide, receiving 69% of the vote. The presidential elections experienced
some procedural glitches, but were largely free of violence and significant
irregularity. Although the presidency is a mostly ceremonial position, the
two rounds of elections were an important indicator of relative party
strength and helped set the stage for the June 30, 2007 parliamentary
elections. The strongest party or group of parties coming out of the
parliamentary elections will determine the next prime minister, in whom
executive power is concentrated.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State (President)--José Ramos-Horta
Head of Government (Prime Minister)--Estanislau da Silva
Minister of Foreign Affairs--vacant
Ambassador to the United Nations--Nelson Santos
Ambassador to the United States--Constancio Pinto, Charge d'Affaires a.i.

East Timor maintains an embassy at 4201 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington,
DC 20008 (telephone: 202-966-3202). East TimorGovernment website: http://

As the poorest nation in Asia, East Timor must overcome formidable
challenges. Basic income, health, and literacy indicators are among the
lowest in Asia. Severe shortages of trained and competent personnel to staff
newly established executive, legislative, and judicial institutions hinder
progress. Rural areas, lacking in infrastructure and resources, remain
brutally poor, and the relatively few urban areas cannot provide adequate
jobs for the country's growing labor force. Many cities, including the
country's second largest, Baucau, do not have routine electrical service.
Rural families' access to electricity and clean water is very limited.
Unemployment and underemployment combined are estimated to be as high as 70%.
While revenues from offshore oil and gas reserves offer great hope for the
country, effective use of those resources will require a major transformation
of the country's current human and institutional infrastructure. Meanwhile,
as those substantial revenues come on line, foreign assistance levels--now
standing at among the highest worldwide on a per capita basis--will likely
taper off.

East Timor has made significant progress in a number of areas since
independence. It has become a full-fledged member of the international
community, joining the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the
World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The Government of East
Timor has drafted a National Development Plan, and its Constituent Assembly
has transitioned into a national parliament that has commenced reviewing and
passing legislation. In July 2005, parliament unanimously passed a law
creating a petroleum fund to effectively manage and invest oil revenues to
ensure these funds are invested in the country's development after
exploitation of these resources ends. While a nascent legal system has been
put into place, the justice system remains among the weakest performing
sector of government, still unable to perform its most basic functions
without substantial assistance by outside professionals. Efforts are underway
to put in place the institutions required to protect human rights, rebuild
the economy, create employment opportunities, and reestablish essential
public services.

East Timor joined the United Nations on September 27, 2002. It is pursuing
membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and became a
member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2005. East Timor's foreign
policy has placed a high priority on its relationships with Indonesia;
regional friends such as Malaysia and Singapore; and donors such as
Australia, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and Portugal.

Indonesia-East Timor Relations
East Timor and Indonesia have full diplomatic relations. In 2005 Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a successful trip to East Timor,
including a visit to the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili where Indonesian troops
had massacred hundreds of Timorese in 1991. Yudhoyono prayed and laid a
heart-shaped wreath at the cemetery, symbolizing the improving ties between
the two nations. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated parts of
Indonesia, the East Timor Government contributed humanitarian assistance to
the victims. Likewise, the Indonesian Government sent humanitarian assistance
to help those displaced by the unrest in Dili in 2006.

In 2005, both nations created a bilateral Truth and Friendship Commission
(TFC) in order "to establish the conclusive truth in regard to the events
prior to and immediately after the popular consultation in 1999, with a view
to promoting reconciliation and friendship, and ensuring the non-recurrence
of similar events." The United States has encouraged both Indonesia and East
Timor to ensure that the TFC achieves a credible outcome and that the TFC
process is transparent, holds public hearings, has international
participation, and names the names of those individuals who perpetrated the
serious crimes. Respected international human rights groups, however, have
criticized the TFC because its limited terms of reference for achieving these
ends do not provide for prosecutions or similar measures to achieve
accountability, and because the TFC has made no clear progress to date.

East Timor maintains an embassy in Washington, DC, as well as a Permanent
Mission in New York at the United Nations. The United States has a large
bilateral development assistance program--$23.3 million in fiscal year
2005--and also contributes funds as a major member of a number of
multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. The
U.S. Peace Corps has operated in East Timor since 2002, but it suspended
operations in May 2006 due to the unrest and instability.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Hans G. Klemm
Deputy Chief of Mission--Henry M. Rector
USAID Representative--Flynn Fuller
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs--Elizabeth Wharton
U.S. Department of Defense Representative--Major Ron Sargent

The U.S. Embassy in East Timor is located at Praia de Coquieros, Dili; tel:
670-332-4684, fax: 670-331-3206.

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