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The Democratic Republik of Timor-Leste - The birth of the first sovereign state in the 21st century





The Democratic Republik of Timor-Leste, common known as East-Timor, is an independent state on the  East-half of the Island Timor in South-East-Asia. The West-half , called West-Timor, is part of Indonesia and is not a well seen neighbour, because of the annexation in 1976.

For a better orientation, Timor-Leste is 640km to the North-west of Darwin (Australia) and 1140km to the East of Bali (Indonesia). The country is approximately 15000km² and thereby half the size of Belgium.



East-Timor was the last 400 years until 1975 colonized by Portugal.




In the same year Indonesia occupied the country and declared East-Timor as the 27th province in 1976.




The UN supported the way into the indenpendancy and Indonesia released 1999 his province.
Timor-Leste was the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002. It is one of two predominantly Roman Catholic contries in Asia. The Philippines are in majority Catholic too.





Apropos, Timor is in Bahasa Indonesia (and Malay, the languages are very similar) the word for East (timur). They call it in the local language Tetum "Timor-Loros'e", what means "land of the rising sun".

The country has a lot of resources in oil and natural gas stocks offshore, in the Timor Sea between Timor and Australia.

In early years of the Portuguese colonial era, Timor exported Sandalwood. It starts a rivalry between the dutch colonzize in the west part of the island and Timor. In the 19th century they separated the island.




In 1942 Japan entered the East-Part and finally 40000 Timorese were killed til the capitulation of Japan in 1945 and the Portugese were reinstated.

In 1974 started the Portugese revolution and the revolution council proclaimed to give off the Portoguese colonies.




This headed to founding various local political parties in East Timor. It was the Fretelin party (revolution for an independent East Timor), the UDT (Democratic Union of Timor) which wanted a federation with Portugese and the pro Indonesian party, called Apodeti, which tended to be part of Indonesia.





In January 1975 were the first attempt to build a coaltion between Fretelin and UDT and an election ended with a victory for the Fretelin party (Fretelin 55%, UDT 40%, Apodeti 5%).

Finally the left wing of Fretelin and the conservative part of the UDT brought the coalition to fail, but there were new elections for 1976 announced. Before, on August 10, 1975 the UDT revolted. It could be possible that the party were supported by ABRI, the Indonesian military.

Fretelin got support from the help of local Portugese military and resisted an attempt of the UDT to control more parts of East-Timor. Within a few days later Fretelin overhelmed the putschists and gained a big part of the colonized troups for them and captured a huge number of weapons and barracks.The colonial administration went back and Fretelin undertook after the following fights with UDT East Timor.

Supported by most of the Timorese, Fretelin tried to establish an efficient administration, but in the background, Indonesia prepared an invasion.

On November 28, 1975 members of Fretelin declared the sovereignity of East Timor.

Indonesia was feared about a democratic or socialistic state on the Indonesian archipelago and launched on December 7, 1975 a diplomatic well prepared military invasion, called "Operasi Komodo".

The group around the secret agency leader Murtopo thought, it would only take a few weeks to end the operation, but it should be a capital missjudgement.

Indonesia asserted that Indonesian volunteers had been asked by Timorese to support them. East Timor was declared in 1976 for the 27. province of Indonesia.

The first years were it not possible for the Indonesian military to control the groups of Fretelin. First in 1977 they got Fretelin under their control.

Til the beginning of the 80's Fretelin had only a few hundreds members left. Under the leading of  Kay Rala „Xanana“ Gusmão, Fretelin used a moderate course and he initiated in 1988 the CNRM (Conselho Nacional de Resistência Maubere). This council coordinated the actions inside East Timor (through the Falinitil, the East Timor Ntional Liberation Army) and outside of East Timor in Australia, Europe and America (through external represantatives).

They worked out a road map for peace and they were also an umbrella organization of all against the annexation working groups. The current President, José Ramos-Horta presented this time the road map.


Jose-Ramus Horta (©Agencia Brasil)

Since the end of the 80's were no more fightings in the main view of the opposition, but rather the international well honoured mediation talks of CNRM, the Catholic Church, represented by Bishop Belo and it formed a new group of students.


Bishop Belo (Ilamri Karonen)


Because of all that changings in the world, the East-West-confrontation and liberalization, Indonesia limbered the pressure on East Timor, but Suharto was never ready to talk about the status of this province.
In opposite, the Indonesian military killedwhile occupation more than 100000, may be over 200000 Timorese people in fights, a lot of people died at sickness, hunger and relocation or harvest losses.

After Suharto's overturn in May 1988, everything turned totally. Indonesia became with President Habibies more democratic. Because of the Asian crises was it for Indonesia neccessary to get support and investment  from western countries. So the pressure on Indonesia raised up, to release East Timor and Habibies announced, Indonesia is willed to talk about the status of East Timor.

Bishop Belo and the opposition in East Timor rejected this vague statement and so Habibies started in January 1999 a second initiative. He announced a sovereign state, if the East Timorese citizen disagree against the autonomy offer and if the congress of the people agree the partion of East Timor.

The Indonesian military built in the meantime a terror regime in East Timor and were now afraid about the time after indenpendence.That's why they build up paramilitary organisations for stir up turmoil. It should end up in a common unstable condition.

At the referendum on August 30, 1999, 98,6% of the registered voters were involved and 78,5% voted for independency. After publishing the results a wave of escalted violence increased. Paramilitary gangs took control over huge witdh of the contry. While a massaker 1000 were killed and 100000's escaped.

Even foreign journalists and UN-members were attacked and also in West-Timor were the refugees at the mercy of them.




Indonesia send more soldiers (at least 15000 Indonesian soldiers in East Timor) to the East and they operated  public, hand in hand with the paramilitrary gangs. The Portugese convended a extraordinary UN-Security Council and asked for an armed commitment of UN-troups.

Indonesia complained at the UN-Security Council about the inactivity, because of irregularities while the election. On September 7, 1999 Indonesia declared martial law over East Timor. Bishop Belo and the in the meanwhile from imprisonment released Gusmão demanded an internationl peacekeeping force.

Only because of a considerable international pressure was Habbibie and the military leader Wiranto ready for willing an internationl peacekeeping force under Australian leadingship with a strong asian share.

The capital Dili was orphaned, plaundered and many buildings destroyed. On September 20, 1999 first InterFET (International Force for East Timor) troups landed in East Timor. And on October 25, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established. Their purpose was in the interim phase til getting the sovereignity, to rebuild the underdevelped and destroyed country, supported by police and blue helmets.

The donor countries offered a financial help of 520 Millionen US$. The situation calmed down quickly.
The 250000 refugees which escaped to West-Timor headed back and further 300000 people went back from the mountains to their homes.

UNTAET was similar like a government, leaded by the Brasilian Sergio Vieira de. He got his order directly from Kofi Annan, but he tried to integrate the political leader of East Timor.

UNTAET founded the National Consultative Council (NCC) with eleven East Timorese and four UNTAET employers. They were asked by in important decisions.



In July 2000 UNTAET established the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA). There were five of nine minister East Timorese. UNTAET nominated  the cabinet member in reconciliation with CNRT (Conselho Nacional da Resistência Timorense). This organization was leaded by Gusmão und Ramos-Horta til the liquidation in June 2001.

In October 2000 UNTAET created the National Council (NC). It took over the NCC and was the prototype of todays parliament.

Thirteen members were from political parties, seven were from NGO's, further thirteen and three represented the districts and religious groups. In the NC were only East Timorese but not legallized through an election and were only in counseled function. The NC were dissolved in July 2001. After reconcillation in August 2001 accrued a real parliament.

On August 30, 2001 were the first free elections in East-Timor since May 1975, This was a milestone on the way to the indenpendency. There were sixteen parties with over 1100 candidats permitted. The CNRT initated the completion of a national conclusion. 14 of 16 parties joined and signed this agreement. They obligate to abandon on violence and admit the vote tally.

Finally went 91% to the election and Fretelin (Frente Revolucionária do Timor Leste Independente) won with 57,3% in front of PD (Partido Democrata) with 8,7% and PSD (Partido Social Democrata Timor Lorosae) with 8,2%.

Fretelin got 55 of 88 available seats at the parliament and missed just a two-third-majority. Three weeks after the election Sergio Vieira de Mello talked with a few leader of the parties, designated the interim government and sworn 24 ministers.

The new government was built of ten members of Fretelin, three of the Democratic party, eleven were independent. Five of them were women, two assets were first not taken. Premier minister was general secretary Mari Alkatiri of the Fretelin party. He was also minister of economy and development. José Ramos-Horta became foreign minister.

On April 14, 2002 occured the first election for the president. The voter participation was 86,3%. Gusmão got 82,7%. The challenger Francisco Xavier reached only 17,3% of the voters.

The basic power struggle was not against this both candidats, it was more between Gusmão and the Fretelin.
He left at the ending 80's the party and want to be a counterweight to Fretelin. Gusmão is the most signifcant
politician in East Timor of the present. After closing CNRT in May 2001 he finished as a president there too.
For many of the East Timorese people he embodied the the fight for independence and represented an  uncorrupt politician.

A few weeks after the election for president, East Timor obtained on May 20, 2002 the public authority from UN-general secretary Kofi Annan.

Shortly after midnight Xanana Gusmão became proclaimed official for the first president of Timor-Leste.

The ceremonial occasion took place on the West edge of Dili and started with a catholic open air holy mass joined by 1000 foreign honored guests and 1200000 East Timorese, which celebrate the independence after a big firework til the the early morning.

Xanana Gusmão visited ahead the ceremony the Indonesian president Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri in Jarkata and invited her in person to join. Although she had a lot of domestic political pressure not participating at the ceremony, she appeared in Dili.

A lack of missunderstanding pushed the strong Indonesian military presence during Megawati's visit.The TNI headquarters had a 2000 men strong force naval, air force and army troops set up. Alone six warships were stationed near Dili. After protests of the East Timorese government they were removed.

Gusmão designated the invasion of 1975 as a historical fault and this is now history. He wants reconciliation. He even visited with Megawati the Seroja Military Cemetery, where 700 Indonesian soldiers are buried, who had died during the occupation.

The economic situation of Timor-Leste is very difficult. The pmopulation is by data of the worldbank 825000 (2002) and most of them are catholics  (91,4%), only 2,6% protestantics, 0,8% muslims and 0,7% hinduism.
There is no industry, most of the farmers supply themself only. 70% of the population is workless and each year are coming 20000 workers on the market.

The illiterate rate is at the 15+ years by 52%. According to values of the worldbank living 40% of the population under the povertylevel of 1,50US$ perday.

International donor countries stuck around 2,4 Mrd. US-Dollar in administration and reconstruction of the contry.

A few days in front of the independence East Timor got further financial help and had for the financial year 2002/2003 about 440 Millionen Dollar.

48% of the household are expenses for education and health. Although the interim government needed a lot of money, but most of them for foreign employers. Only 1% of the budget of the UNTAET was used for local employers.

East Timor hopes to export oil and natural gas stocks form the Timor Sea. After the indenpendence East Timor and Australia signed a contract for sharing the this stocks and they will deal further with other oil- and natural gas stocks.

East Timor shall profit the next 17 years of five Mrd. Dollars for exporting a new big stock. But the borderline between East Timor and Australia is not fixed yet.





Quelle: Timor Lorosa'e - Die schwierige Geburt eines Staates, A.Ufen, 2002, Wikipedia




Read part II: The first years of the first sovereign state of the 21st century.

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