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East Timor


Map of East Timor from the CIA World Factbook.

The 300-mile-long Southeast Asian island, Timor-Leste, is located 300 miles north of Australia.   Since the early 16th century it was a colony of Portugal, coveted for its extensive resources of sandalwood and its favorable location in the midst of Chinese and Indian trade routes.  In 1859, the Treaty of Lisbon ceded the western part of the island to the Dutch West Indies.

In November 1975, during the Portuguese revolution, Portugal finally relinquished control to the Timorese.  Civil unrest ensued as competing nationalist groups fought for control.  The Timorese Democratic Union agenda supported an independent Westernized government under the Portuguese.  The Popular Democratic Association Apodeti party promoted Indonesian integration.  The left-wing Fretilin fought for total independence.   Nine days after Portuguese secession, Indonesia invaded East Timor and declared absolute authority over the tiny island.  Indonesian rule and occupation was formally recognized in July 1976 when the island became the province of Timor Timur (East Timor).  The Indonesian invasion of East Timor launched an era of bloodshed that lasted for two decades.  It is estimated that 120,000 to 200,000 Timorese, roughly one-third of the population, lost their lives due to execution, imprisonment, starvation, and disease.   Proportionally, the killing supervised by the Indonesian dictator Suharto, exceeded that of Cambodia’s Pol Pot regime. 

Indonesia denied their involvement in the East Timor genocide claiming that the missing 150,000 were lost due to famine.  Amnesty International reported extensive human rights abuses including mass detention, torture, and forced sterilization of Timorese women.  The international community has since been criticized for ignoring the suffering of the people of East Timor in the interest of political and economic ties to Indonesia.  

Recommended Resources

Constâncio Pinto East Timor Survivor  
Jamsheed Marker United Nations Special Envoy to East Timor  

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