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Located mainly on the east part of the island of Timor, Timor-Leste shares a single land border with the Indonesian controlled western portion. A former Portuguese colony, it was brutally occupied by Indonesia shortly after decolonisation, resulting in a long, bloody struggle for independence that culminated in international intervention in 1999. Independence has seen continued tensions, though the situation is much improved from the abuses of the occupation era. Political violence, early marriage and violence against children are ongoing concerns.
Timor-Leste occupies the eastern half of the Island of Timor 1,000 miles south of the Philippines and 400 miles north-west of Australia. A border with Indonesia cuts the island in half, though the enclave of Oecussi-Ambeno in western Timor is also part of Timor-Leste. The capital city is Dili.
Population and language
1.2 million people live in Timor-Leste, a population that has doubled since 1980, and which increased by more than 30 per cent over the past decade. The people of Timor-Leste are ethnically diverse, the largest group of which are the Tetern, though there are substantial communities of Mambai, Makasai, Kemak, Galoli, Tokodede, Bunak and Fataluku peoples, all of which have their own languages. Teturn, Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesia are the most widely spoken languages in the country.
History and politics
Upon the disintegration of the Portuguese colonial empire in 1975, tensions built between political parties in Timor-Leste, and when the FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) party unilaterally declared independence, the country descended into civil war. Indonesia, under the leadership of President Suharto, launched a full scale invasion in December of that year over fears of the formation of a communist state on its border. The conflict and the resultant famine led to the deaths of between 80,000 and 200,000 Timorese people.
In 1999, following the collapse of the Suharto regime in Indonesia, the Timorese were allowed a vote on their national future. 78.5 per cent of the population rejected the deal on autonomy proposed by Indonesia, and violence again broke out between pro-integrationists and those in favour of independence. A multi-national force under UN auspices was installed in the country to maintain order, and a Transitional Administration was installed in preparation for self-government. In 2002, the UN officially handed over control to the first democratically elected government of East Timor.
In the Presidential elections of 2012, former guerilla leader Taur Matan Ruak was elected President and parliamentary elections held later in the year returned a hung parliament with the Timorese Resistance Party as the largest party in the legislature. Widespread unrest has largely been brought under control, but the UN mandate has been extended several times to ensure stability, and in 2008, the President was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. The mandate of the UN integrated Mission in the country ended in December 2012.
Upon gaining its independence, the infrastructure of Timor-Leste was in a dire condition, with 70 per cent of all buildings, homes and schools destroyed and 75 per cent of the population displaced. The lack of security in the country has also presented challenges in developing the economy, but in a large part as a result of the country's natural resources, the economy has shown signs of recovery. Since the Timor Sea Accord of 2002, Timor-Leste has had the rights to 90 per cent of the oil in the Timor Sea, which has created substantial economic growth, leading to an increase in GDP at a rate of 7.5 per cent (2009). Unemployment has remained high, however, and oil wealth has yet to be translated into high living standards: UNDP has rated the country 147 in the world in terms of human development. Among the economic challenges that the World Bank has highlighted for the country are the need to support the development of the public management system, to develop the education system to create a skilled workforce and to reconstruct infrastructure.
Media and civil society
Journalists enjoy relatively favourable conditions compared to those in many south-east Asian nations, though during periods of unrest, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported on government censorship, including the harassment of privately owned daily newspaper, Suara Timor Lorosae, and a raid of the offices of Timor-Leste TV and radio station, TVTL. Since the country gained its independence, new laws on civil society organisations have been adopted, and government has worked with such organisations on occasion, but it is still early days in the development of civil society. RWB rated the country 93 out of 178 in its Press Freedom Index of 2010.
Human rights and children's rights
Human rights violations were widespread and severe during the Indonesian occupation, and children were victims both passively and as combatants, but in many respects standards are now improving. Several NGOs, however, have been critical of the State's failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for past violations. The joint Commission of Truth and Friendship engaged in an investigation into allegations of human rights violations committed during the period, and the leaders of both Indonesia and Timor-Leste have agreed to abide by the Commission's recommendations, but those recommendations did not address prosecutions of individuals.
- BBC, "Timor chooses independence" 4 September 1999
- The Guardian, “Timor-Leste voters choose former guerilla fighter as president” 23 April 2012
- The Guardian, “Timor-Leste election results in hung parliament” 9 July 2012
- BBC, "Shot East Timor leader 'critical'" 11 February 2008
- See United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste
- The World Bank, "Timor-Leste Country Brief"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Government harasses daily newspaper Suara Timor-Lorosae" 3 March 2005
- Reporters Without Borders, "Opposition militants raid Timor-Leste TV and radio" 30 June 2006
- The World Bank, "Strengthening the Institutions of Governance in Timor-Leste" April 2006
- The Commission of Truth and Friendship
- OHCHR, "Timor-Leste Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "East Timor Country Profile"
- BBC, "East Timor Country Profile" and news items (see footnotes)
- The World Bank, "Timor-Leste Country Page" and "Country Brief"
- Amnesty International, "World Report 2011: Timor-Leste"
- UN resources (see footnotes)
- Reporters Without Borders (see footnotes)