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East Timor

Country on the E side of the island of Timor in the W Pacific Ocean N of Australia. The capital is Dili. The Portuguese visited Timor in the early 16th century. Their claim to Timor was disputed by the Dutch, who arrived in 1613. Treaties in 1859, 1893, and 1914 divided the island giving the eastern half to the Portuguese and the western half to the Dutch. The Japanese occupied the island in World War II, and after the war, Dutch Timor became part of the Republic of Indonesia.

In 1975, when Portugal granted its former colonies independence, fighting broke out between rival independence parties in Portuguese Timor. The leftist Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) triumphed, and established the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, with Francisco Xavier do Amaral as its president. Indonesia invaded the new nation nine days later, and annexed East Timor. Starvation, disease, and warfare killed as many as 120,000 East Timorese by 1979. A low-level guerrilla war between FRETILIN rebels and Indonesia continued until 1999, when Indonesia and Portugal agreed to give East Timor the right to vote for independence or autonomy.

In 1999, against Indonesian expectations, Timor Leste voted for independence in a UN-supervised referendum. The Indonesian army and pro-Indonesian militias attacked pro-independence supporters, looting and burning many homes and buildings. A peacekeeping force arrived and Indonesia withdrew. The United Nations assumed the administration and defense of East Timor as a non-self-governing territory. A constituent assembly, charged with writing a constitution for East Timor, was elected in 2001, and in 2002, José Alexand re “Xanana” Gusmão, a former guerrilla leader, defeated Xavier do Amaral as president and Timor Leste became an independent nation. A treaty that resolved most border issues was signed with Indonesia in 2005.


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