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The Decolonization of East Timor

Jamsheed Marker, United Nations Special Envoy to East Timor

Well, I think we really need to go back twenty-five years, if not 350 years when the -- East Timor was a Portuguese colony. And to look at the -- if you want an overview situation of East Timor, it was a Portuguese colony for about 300 years, over 300 years. It's half an island; the other half was a Dutch colony for approximately the same period of time.

Now, when Indonesia became independent -- and this was in '49, '48-'49 -- West Timor became a part of Indonesia and stayed with Indonesia. East Timor remained as a Portuguese colony, because the Portuguese colonies continued until the time of the Portuguese Revolution or change in government, when the Salazar government fell and a new democratic dispensation came up in Lisbon. And at that time, they started the decolonization -- abandoning their colonies, or decolonizing them, and the results have been, you know, fairly catastrophic. Angola and Mozambique were the main ones, and Timor itself was another instance.

There was a kind of civil war in East Timor, and at the time -- at the time of the departure of the Portuguese, who left rather abruptly, there was no -- there was a governor there who ran away. Some Portuguese colonial people stayed on; others went. And the East Timorese were kind of left to themselves, and it was at that time that Suharto -- he claims rather unwillingly, and I think it was at that point in time -- moved in militarily and took over East Timor.

About a year and a half later, the Indonesians staged an election of kinds, whereby the East Timorese voted and opted to become a part of Indonesia. But the basic resistance in East Timor commenced from that time, and it was an incipient kind of low-grade struggle that went on. When the Indonesians moved in 1976, the United Nations did not accept that, that action, and voted against it, and did not recognize the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and called on the Indonesians to vacate East Timor, so that the East Timorese people could decide for themselves what they wanted to do.

So the U.N. has never recognized the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, apart from Australia, who later gave a tacit recognition of it. By and large, there was no formal judicial recognition of East Timor as a part of Indonesia by the international community.