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East Timor

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Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Repúblika Demokrátika Timór-Leste (Tetum)

República Democrática de Timor-Leste (Portuguese)

Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Unidade, Acção, Progresso"  (Portuguese)
("Unity, Action, Progress")
Anthem:  Pátria
and largest city
8°34′S 125°34′E
Official languages Tetum and Portuguese1
Working languages Indonesian and English
Demonym East Timorese
Government Parliamentary republic
 -  President José Ramos-Horta
 -  Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão
Independence from Portugal, Indonesia²
 -  Established 1702 
 -  Declared November 28, 1975 
 -  Restored May 20, 2002 
 -  Total 14,874 km2 ( 159th)
5,743 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) negligible
 -  2010 estimate 1,066,582 ( 155th)
 -  Density 76.2/km2 ( 132nd)
197.4/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $2.741 billion
 -  Per capita $2,521
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $590 million
 -  Per capita $542
HDI (2007) Increase 0.489
Error: Invalid HDI value · 162nd
Currency U.S. Dollar³ ( USD)
Time zone ( UTC+9)
Drives on the left
Calling code +670
Internet TLD .tl4
1. 15 further "national languages" recognised by the Constitution.
2. Indonesia invaded East Timor on December 7, 1975 and left in 1999.
3. Centavo coins also used.
4. .tp is being phased out.

East Timor ( /ˌiːst ˈtiːmɔr/), officially named Timor-Leste, ( Tetum: Timór-Leste; officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) is a state in Southeast Asia. It comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecusse, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor. The small country of 15,410 km² (5,400 sq mi) is located about 640 km (400 mi) northwest of Darwin, Australia.

East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, and was known as Portuguese Timor until Portugal's decolonization of the country. In late 1975, East Timor declared its independence, but later that year was invaded and occupied by Indonesia and was declared Indonesia's 27th province the following year. In 1999, following the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002. East Timor is one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia, the other being the Philippines.

East Timor is a lower-middle-income economy. It continues to suffer the aftereffects of a decades-long independence struggle against Indonesia, which damaged infrastructure and displaced thousands of civilians. It is placed 120th by Human Development Index (HDI).

Etymology and naming issues

"Timor" derives from timur, the word for "east" in Indonesian and Malay (hence the Indonesian Timor Timur) which became Timor in Portuguese and entered English as Portuguese Timor. Lorosa'e is also the word for "east" in Tetum, literally "rising sun".

The official names under the Constitution are República Democrática de Timor-Leste in Portuguese (pronounced:  [tiˈmoɾ ˈlɛʃtɨ]), which is almost universally used within the country, and in Tetum, Repúblika Demokrátika Timór Lorosa'e, which is infrequently used and is not standard across the many Tetum dialects. Following independence, the government requested the official name in all languages be Timor-Leste, but this has not been commonly adopted within English-speaking countries worldwide, where "East Timor" is the common usage. The Indonesian name Timor Timur, abbreviated as Timtim, is now less widely used, with the Indonesian government and media now using Timor Leste.

The official short form names of countries worldwide are set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 3166-1 official short name in English and all other languages is Timor-Leste. The ISO definition is adopted by the United Nations, the national standards organisations of France ( AFNOR), the United States of America ( ANSI), Britain ( BSI), Germany ( DIN) and Sweden ( SIS) and is universally used by international NGOs. Timor–Leste is used as a matter of protocol by the departments of foreign affairs of almost all countries, for example, the USA Department of State and the European Union; notable exceptions being Australia, which uses "East Timor".

The ISO name gives rise to the standard three letter country code TLS and two letter country code TL as in the country’s internet domain name. The old two letter country code, TP, is gradually being phased out.


It is believed that descendants from at least three waves of migration still live in East Timor. The first were related to the principal indigenous groups of New Guinea and Australia, and arrived before 40,000 years ago. Around 3000 BC, Austronesians migrated to Timor, and are thought to be associated with the development of agriculture on the island. Thirdly, proto- Malays arrived from south China and north Indochina. Before colonialism Timor was included in Chinese and Indian trading networks, being in the 14th century an exporter of aromatic sandalwood, slaves, honey and wax. Early European explorers report that the island had a number of small chiefdoms or princedoms in the early 16th century.

Portuguese Timor Arms (1935-1975)

The Portuguese established outposts in Timor and Maluku. Effective European occupation of a small part of the territory began in 1769, when the city of Dili was founded and the colony of Portuguese Timor declared. A definitive border between the Dutch colonised western half of the island and the Portuguese colonised eastern half of the island was established by the Hague Treaty of 1916, and it remains the international boundary between the successor states East Timor and Indonesia. For the Portuguese, East Timor remained little more than a neglected trading post until the late nineteenth century, with minimal investment in infrastructure, health, and education. Sandalwood remained the main export crop with coffee exports becoming significant in the mid-nineteenth century. In places where Portuguese rule was asserted, it tended to be brutal and exploitative.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a faltering home economy prompted the Portuguese to extract greater wealth from its colonies, which was met with Timorese resistance. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Dili, and the mountainous interior became the scene of a guerrilla campaign, known as the Battle of Timor. Waged by Allied forces and Timorese volunteers against the Japanese, the struggle resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 70,000 Timorese. Following the end of the war, Portuguese control was reinstated.

The decolonisation process instigated by the 1974 Portuguese revolution saw Portugal effectively abandon the colony of East Timor. A civil war between supporters of East Timorese political parties, Fretilin and the UDT, broke out in 1975 as UDT attempted a coup which Fretilin resisted with the help of local Portuguese military. Independence was unilaterally declared on 28 November 1975. The Indonesian government was fearful of an independent communist state within the Indonesian archipelago, and at the height of the Cold War, Western governments were supportive of Indonesia's position. The Indonesian military launched a full-scale invasion of East Timor in December 1975. Indonesia declared East Timor as its 27th province in July 1976. The UN Security Council opposed the invasion and the territory's nominal status in the UN remained "non-self-governing territory under Portuguese administration."

Demonstration for independence from Indonesia.

Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was marked by violence and brutality. A detailed statistical report prepared for the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor cited a minimum bound of 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974–1999, namely, approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 'excess' deaths from hunger and illness. The East Timorese guerrilla force, Falintil, fought a campaign against the Indonesian forces from 1975–1999. The Dili Massacre was a turning point for the independence cause internationally, and an East Timor solidarity movement grew in Portugal, Australia, and the United States.

Following the resignation of Indonesian President Suharto, a UN-sponsored agreement between Indonesia and Portugal allowed for UN-supervised popular referendum in August 1999. The resulting clear vote for independence was met with a punitive campaign of violence by Timorese pro-integration militia with the support of elements of the Indonesian military (main article 1999 referendum). An international peacekeeping force, INTERFET, was sent with Indonesian permission to ensure order was restored. The administration of East Timor was taken over by the UN through the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in October 1999. The INTERFET deployment ended in February 2000 with the transfer of military command to the UN. East Timorese independence was formalised on 20 May 2002 with Xanana Gusmão sworn in as the country's first President. East Timor became a member of the UN on 27 September 2002.

In June 2006, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned as Prime Minister, and José Ramos-Horta was appointed as his successor. The following year, Gusmão declined another presidential term and in the build-up to the April 2007 presidential elections there were renewed outbreaks of violence. José Ramos-Horta was elected President in the May 2007 election. Ramos-Horta was critically injured in an attempted assassination in February 2008. Prime Minister Gusmão also faced gunfire separately but escaped unharmed. Australian reinforcements were immediately sent to help keep order.


Government Palace in Dili.

The head of state of East Timor is the President of East Timor, who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Although the role is largely symbolic, the president does have veto power over certain types of legislation. Following elections, the president appoints the leader of the majority party or majority coalition as the Prime Minister of East Timor. As head of government, the prime minister presides over the Council of State or cabinet.

The unicameral Timorese parliament is the National Parliament or Parlamento Nacional, whose members are elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The number of seats can vary from a minimum of fifty-two to a maximum of sixty-five, though it exceptionally has eighty-eight members at present, due to this being its first term of office. The East Timorese constitution was modelled on that of Portugal. The country is still in the process of building its administration and governmental institutions.

Government departments

  • Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste (police)
  • East Timor Ministry for State and Internal Administration
  • Civil Aviation Division of Timor Leste
  • Immigration Department of Timor Leste

Districts, subdistricts, and sucos

Map of the districts of East Timor.

East Timor is divided into thirteen administrative districts:

1. Lautém 2. Baucau 3. Viqueque 4. Manatuto 5. Dili 6. Aileu 7. Manufahi 8. Liquiçá 9. Ermera 10. Ainaro 11. Bobonaro 12. Cova Lima 13. Oecusse

The districts are subdivided into 65 subdistricts, 442 sucos (villages) and 2,225 aldeias (hamlets).


Map of East Timor shows cities and main roads.
Tasitolu in Dili.

Located in southeast Asia, the island of Timor is part of the Maritime Southeast Asia, and is the largest and easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. To the north of the mountainous island are the Ombai Strait, Wetar Strait and the greater Banda Sea, to the south the Timor Sea separates the island from Australia, while to the west lies the Indonesian Province of East Nusa Tenggara. The highest mountain of East Timor is Tatamailau (also known as Mount Ramelau) at 2,963 meters (9,721 ft).

The local climate is tropical and generally hot and humid, characterised by distinct rainy and dry seasons. The capital, largest city and main port is Dili, and the second-largest city is the eastern town of Baucau.

The easternmost area of Timor-Leste consists of the Paitchau Range and Iralalaro area. This area is the first conservation area in Timor-Leste, the Nino Konis Santana National Park. It contains the last remaining tropical dry forested area within the country. It hosts a number of unique plant and animal species and is sparsely populated. The northern coast is characterised by a number of coral reef systems that have been determined to be at risk.


Coffee production in the subdistricts of East Timor

Prior to and during colonization, Timor was best known for its sandalwood.

In late 1999, about 70% of the economic infrastructure of East Timor was destroyed by Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias, and 260,000 people fled westward. From 2002 to 2005, an international program led by the United Nations, manned by civilian advisers, 5,000 peacekeepers (8,000 at peak) and 1,300 police officers, substantially reconstructed the infrastructure. By mid-2002, all but about 50,000 of the refugees had returned.

One promising long-term project is the joint development with Australia of petroleum and natural gas resources in the waters southeast of Timor. The Portuguese colonial administration granted concessions to Oceanic Exploration Corporation to develop the deposits. However, this was curtailed by the Indonesian invasion in 1976. The resources were divided between Indonesia and Australia with the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989. The treaty established guidelines for joint exploitation of seabed resources in the area of the "gap" left by then-Portuguese Timor in the maritime boundary agreed between the two countries in 1972. Revenues from the "joint" area were to be divided 50%-50%. Woodside Petroleum and ConocoPhillips began development of some resources in the Timor Gap on behalf of the two governments in 1992.

East Timor inherited no permanent maritime boundaries when it attained independence, repudiating the Timor Gap Treaty as illegal. A provisional agreement (the Timor Sea Treaty, signed when East Timor became independent on 20 May 2002) defined a Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA), and awarded 90% of revenues from existing projects in that area to East Timor and 10% to Australia. The first significant new development in the JPDA since Timorese independence is the largest petroleum resource in the Timor Sea, the Greater Sunrise gas field. Its exploitation was the subject of separate agreements in 2003 and 2005. Only 20% of the field lies within the JPDA and the rest in waters not subject to the treaty (though claimed by both countries). The initial, temporary agreement gave 82% of revenues to Australia and only 18% to East Timor.

The government of East Timor has sought to negotiate a definite boundary with Australia at the halfway line between the countries, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The government of Australia preferred to establish the boundary at the end of the wide Australian continental shelf, as agreed with Indonesia in 1972 and 1991. Normally a dispute such as this would be referred to the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for an impartial decision, but the Australian government had withdrawn itself from these international jurisdictions (solely on matters relating to maritime boundaries) shortly before Timorese independence. Nevertheless, under public and diplomatic pressure, the Australian government offered instead a last-minute concession on Greater Sunrise gas field royalties alone. On July 7, 2005, an agreement was signed under which both countries would set aside the dispute over the maritime boundary, and East Timor would receive 50% of the revenues (estimated at A$26 billion or about US$20 billion over the lifetime of the project) from the Greater Sunrise development. Other developments within waters claimed by East Timor but outside the JPDA (Laminaria-Corallina and Buffalo) continue to be exploited unilaterally by Australia, however.

Subdistricts suffering from hunger in November 2007

In 2007, a bad harvest led to deaths in several parts of Timor-Leste. In November 2007, eleven subdistricts still needed food supplied by international aid.

East Timor also has a large and potentially lucrative coffee industry, which sells organic coffee to numerous Fair Trade retailers and on the open market.

Currently three foreign banks have a branch in Dili: Australia's ANZ, Portugal's Banco Nacional Ultramarino, and Indonesia's Bank Mandiri.

There are no patent laws in East Timor.


Man in traditional dress, East Timor.jpg

The population of East Timor is about one million. It has grown considerably recently, because of a high birth rate, but also because of the return of refugees. The population is especially concentrated in the area around Dili.

The Timorese are called Maubere collectively by some of their political organizations, an originally derogatory name turned into a name of pride by Fretilin. They consist of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of whom are of mixed Malayo-Polynesian and Melanesian/ Papuan descent. The largest Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups are the Tetum (or Tetun) (100,000), primarily in the north coast and around Dili; the Mambae (80,000), in the central mountains; the Tukudede (63,170), in the area around Maubara and Liquiçá; the Galoli (50,000), between the tribes of Mambae and Makasae; the Kemak (50,000) in north-central Timor island; and the Baikeno (20,000), in the area around Pante Macassar. The main tribes of predominantly Papuan origin include the Bunak (50,000), in the central interior of Timor island; the Fataluku (30,000), at the eastern tip of the island near Lospalos; and the Makasae, toward the eastern end of the island. In addition, like other former Portuguese colonies where interracial marriage was common, there is a smaller population of people of mixed Timorese and Portuguese origin, known in Portuguese as mestiços. The East Timorese mestiço best-known internationally is José Ramos-Horta, the spokesman for the resistance movement in exile, and now President of East Timor. Mário Viegas Carrascalão, Indonesia's appointed governor between 1987 and 1992, is also a mestiço. East Timor also has a small Chinese minority, most of whom are Hakka. Most left after the Indonesian invasion, with most moving to Australia although many Sino-Timorese have returned, including Pedro Lay, the Minister for Infrastructure.


Balide curch, Dili

Upon independence, East Timor became one of only two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia (along with the Philippines), although nearby parts of Indonesia also have Catholic majorities, including West Timor and Flores. The population predominantly identifies as Roman Catholic (97%), though local animist traditions have a persistent and strong influence on the culture. The number of churches has grown from 100 in 1974 to over 800 in 1994. Religious minorities include Muslims (1%) (including former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri) and Protestants (1%) (including Taur Matan Ruak, Commander of the Falintil-FDTL). Smaller Hindu (0.5%), Buddhist (0.1%) and traditional animist minorities make up the remainder. Church membership grew considerably under Indonesian rule, as Indonesia's state ideology Pancasila does not recognize traditional beliefs and requires all citizens to believe in God. Although the struggle was not about religion, as a deep-rooted local institution the Church not only symbolized East Timor's distinction from predominantly Muslim Indonesia, but also played a significant role in the resistance movement, as personified by Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The constitution acknowledges the Church's role among the East Timorese people although it also stipulates a secular state that guarantees freedom of religion to everyone.


Language map of Timor

East Timor's two official languages are Portuguese and Tetum, which belongs to the Austronesian family of languages spoken throughout Southeast Asia. The predominant form of Tetum, known as Tetun-Dili, grew out of the dialect favored by the colonizers at Dili, and thus has considerable Portuguese influence, but other dialects of Tetum are also widely used in the country, including Tetun-Terik which is spoken along the southwestern coast. Indonesian and English are defined as working languages under the Constitution in the Final and Transitional Provisions, without setting a final date. Another fifteen indigenous languages are spoken: Bekais, Bunak, Dawan, Fataluku, Galoli, Habun, Idalaka, Kawaimina, Kemak, Lovaia, Makalero, Makasai, Mambai, Tokodede, and Wetarese.

Under Indonesian rule, the use of Portuguese was banned, but it was used by the clandestine resistance, especially in communicating with the outside world. The language, along with Tetum, gained importance as a symbol of resistance and freedom and was adopted as one of the two official languages for this reason, and as a link to nations in other parts of the world. It is now being taught and promoted widely with the help of Brazil, Portugal, and the Latin Union, although its prominence in official and public spheres has been met with some hostility from younger Indonesian-educated Timorese.

According to the 2006 UN Development Report (using data from official census), under 5% of the Timorese population is proficient in Portuguese. However, the validity of this report has been questioned by members of the Timorese National Institute of Linguistics, which maintains that Portuguese is spoken by up to 25% of Timorese, with the number of speakers more than doubling in the last five years. Along with other local languages, Tetum remains the most common means of communication between ordinary Timorese, while Indonesian is still widely used in the media and school from high school to university. A large proportion of words in Tetum are derived from Portuguese, but it also shares many Malay-derived words with Indonesian. Many Indonesian words are still in common use in Tetum and other Timorese languages, particularly numbers.

East Timor is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, and a member of the Latin Union. It is the only independent state in Asia with Portuguese as an official language, although this is also one of the official languages of China's Special Administrative Region of Macau.


About half the adult population are illiterate. Illiteracy is higher among women. Illiteracy was at 90% at the end of Portuguese rule. In 2006, 10-30% of primary-school age children did not attend school. The country has the National University of East Timor. Indonesian plays a considerable role within education. Since the departure of the Portuguese, schools have increased from 50 to more than 800. There are also 4 colleges.


Life expectancy at birth was at 60.7 in 2007. The fertility rate is at six births per woman. Healthy life expectancy at birth was at 55 years in 2007. Government expenditure on health was at US$ 150 (PPP) per person in 2006. Many people in East Timor lack safe drinking water. There were two hospitals and 14 village healthcare facilities in 1974. By 1994 there were 11 hospitals and 330 healthcare centres.


The culture of East Timor reflects numerous influences, including Portuguese, Roman Catholic, and Malaysia, on the indigenous Austronesian and Melanesian cultures of Timor. Legend has it that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Crocodile Island, as it is often called. East Timorese culture is heavily influenced by Austronesian legends, although the Catholic influence is also strong. There is a strong tradition of poetry. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, for example, is a distinguished poet. As for architecture, some Portuguese-style buildings can be found, along with the traditional totem houses of the eastern region. These are known as uma lulik (sacred houses) in Tetum, and lee teinu (houses with legs) in Fataluku. Craftsmanship is also widespread, as is the weaving of traditional scarves or tais.


East Timor has joined many international sport associations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC board has granted full recognition to the East Timorese Olympic Committee (COTL). The IOC had allowed a mainly symbolic four-member team to take part in the 2000 Sydney Games under the Olympic flag as "Independent Olympic Athletes." The Federação de Timor-Leste de Atletismo has joined the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The Federação de Badminton de Timor-Leste joined the International Badminton Federation (IBF) in April 2003. The East Timor Cycling Federation has joined the Union Cycliste Internationale. The Confederação do Desporto de Timor Leste has joined the International Weightlifting Federation. East Timor is also a full member of the International Table-Tennis Federation (ITTF). In September 2005, East Timor's national football team joined FIFA.

East Timor has taken part in several sporting events. Although the athletes came back with no medals, East Timorese athletes had the opportunity to compete with other Southeast Asian athletes in the 2003 Southeast Asian Games held in Vietnam in 2003. In the 2003 ASEAN Paralympics Games, also held in Vietnam, East Timor won a bronze medal. In the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, six athletes participated in three sports: athletics, weightlifting and boxing). East Timor won three medals in Arnis at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. East Timor was also one of the competing nations in the first Lusophony Games, winning a bronze medal in the women's volleyball competition (finishing third out of three teams), despite the fact the team had lost all its three games. On October 30, 2008, East Timor earned their first international points in a FIFA match with a 2-2 draw against Cambodia.

Public holidays

East Timor now has public holidays that commemorate historic events in the liberation struggle, as well as those associated with Catholicism and Islam. They are defined in Timor-Leste Law no. 10/2005 PDF (16.7 KB).

Date Name Notes
January 1 New Year's Day
date varies Eid al-Adha
March-April Good Friday
May 1 Labour Day
May 20 Independence Restoration Day Anniversary of transfer of sovereignty from the United Nations transitional government, 2002
May-June Corpus Christi
August 30 Popular Consultation Day Anniversary of the Popular Consultation, 1999
November 1 All Saints' Day
November 2 All Souls' Day
November 12 National Youth Day Anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre, 1991
November 28 Proclamation of Independence Day 1975
date varies Idul Fitri
December 7 National Heroes' Day Anniversary of Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 1975
December 8 Immaculate Conception
December 25 Christmas Day

In addition, the law defines "official commemorative dates" which are not considered holidays but could be subject to time off from work:

Date Name
February-March Ash Wednesday
March-April Holy Thursday
May-June Ascension Day
June 1 International Children's Day
August 20 Day of the Armed Forces for the National Liberation of Timor-Leste (FALINTIL)
November 3 National Women's Day
December 10 International Human Rights Day
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