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East Timor

East Timor is located in the eastern part of Timor, an island in the Indonesian archipelago that lies between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. East Timor includes the enclave of Oecussi, which is located within West Timor (Indonesia). After Indonesia, East Timor's closest neighbor is Australia, 400 mi to the south. It is semi-arid and mountainous.


Timor was first colonized by the Portuguese in 1520. The Dutch, who claimed many of the surrounding islands, took control of the western portion of the island in 1613. Portugal and the Netherlands fought over the island until an 1860 treaty divided Timor, granting Portugal the eastern half of the island as well as the western enclave of Oecussi (the first Portuguese settlement on the island). Australia and Japan fought each other on the island during World War II; nearly 50,000 East Timorese died during the subsequent Japanese occupation.

In 1949, the Netherlands gave up its colonies in the Dutch West Indies, including West Timor, and the nation of Indonesia was born. East Timor remained under Portuguese control until 1975, when the Portuguese abruptly pulled out after 455 years of colonization. The sudden Portuguese withdrawal left the island vulnerable. On July 16, 1976, 9 days after the Democratic Republic of East Timor was declared an independent nation, Indonesia invaded and annexed it. Although no country except Australia officially recognized the annexation, Indonesia's invasion was sanctioned by the United States and other western countries, who had cultivated Indonesia as a trading partner and cold-war ally (Fretilin, the East Timorese political party spearheading independence, was Marxist at the time).

Indonesia's invasion and its brutal occupation of East Timor—small, remote, and desperately poor—largely escaped international attention. East Timor's resistance movement was violently suppressed by Indonesian military forces, and more than 200,000 Timorese were reported to have died from famine, disease, and fighting since the annexation. Indonesia's human rights abuses finally began receiving international notice in the 1990s, and in 1996 two East Timorese activists, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta, received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to gain freedom peacefully.

After Indonesia's hard-line president Suharto left office in 1998, his successor, B. J. Habibie, unexpectedly announced his willingness to hold a referendum on East Timorese independence, reversing 25 years of Indonesian intransigence. As the referendum on self-rule drew closer, fighting between separatist guerrillas and pro-Indonesian paramilitary forces in East Timor intensified. The UN-sponsored referendum had to be rescheduled twice because of violence. On Aug. 30, 1999, 78.5% of the population voted to secede from Indonesia. But in the days following the referendum, pro-Indonesian militias and Indonesian soldiers retaliated by razing towns, slaughtering civilians, and forcing a third of the population out of the province. After enormous international pressure, Indonesia finally agreed to allow UN forces into East Timor on Sept. 12. Led by Australia, an international peacekeeping force began restoring order to the ravaged region.

The UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) then governed the territory for nearly three years. On May 20, 2002, nationhood was declared. Charismatic rebel leader José Alexandre Gusmão, who was imprisoned by Indonesia from 1992 to 1999, was overwhelmingly elected the nation's first president on April 14, 2002. The president has a largely symbolic role; real power rests with the parliament and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, also a former guerrilla leader.

The first new country of the millennium, East Timor is also one of the world's poorest. Its meager infrastructure was destroyed by the Indonesian militias in 1999 and the economy, primarily made up of subsistence farming and fishing, is in shambles. East Timor's off-shore gas and oil reserves promised the only real hope for lifting it out of poverty, but a dispute with Australia over the rights to the oil reserves in the East Timor Sea has currently thwarted those efforts. The oil and gas fields lie much closer to East Timor than to Australia, but a 1989 deal between Indonesia and Australia set the maritime boundary along Australia's continental shelf, which gives it control of 85% of the sea and most of the oil. East Timor wants the border redrawn halfway between the two countries, and estimates that this would allow it to earn $12 billion over the next 30 years, as opposed to $4.4 billion. The two countries reached a temporary agreement in August 2004, which granted East Timor a larger share of the oil and gas revenues. In exchange, it would no longer request that the maritime border be redrawn.

Population 1,019,252 note: other estimates range as low as 800,000 (July 2004 est.)  
Age structure 0-14 years: 37.8% (male 196,007; female 189,584) 15-64 years: 59.2% (male 308,254; female 295,584) 65 years and over: 2.9% (male 14,663; female 15,160) (2004 est.)  
Median age total: 20 years male: 20.1 years female: 19.9 years (2004 est.)  
Population growth rate 2.11% (2004 est.)  
Birth rate 27.46 births/1,000 population (2004 est.)  
Death rate 6.36 deaths/1,000 population (2004 est.)  
Net migration rate 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2004 est.)  
Sex ratio at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.97 male(s)/female total population: 1.04 male(s)/female (2004 est.)  
Infant mortality rate total: 48.86 deaths/1,000 live births female: 42.05 deaths/1,000 live births (2004 est.) male: 55.34 deaths/1,000 live births  
Life expectancy at birth total population: 65.56 years male: 63.31 years female: 67.92 years (2004 est.)  
Total fertility rate 3.7 children born/woman (2004 est.)  
Nationality noun: Timorese adjective: Timorese  
Ethnic groups Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian), Papuan, small Chinese minority  
Religions Roman Catholic 90%, Muslim 4%, Protestant 3%, Hindu 0.5%, Buddhist, Animist (1992 est.)  
Languages Tetum (official), Portuguese (official), Indonesian, English note: there are about 16 indigenous languages; Tetum, Galole, Mambae, and Kemak are spoken by significant numbers of people  
Literacy conventional long form: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste conventional short form: East Timor local short form: Timor Lorosa'e [Tetum]; Timor-Leste [Portuguese] former: Portuguese Timor local long form: Republika Demokratika Timor Lorosa'e [Tetum]; Republica Democratica de Timor-Leste [Portuguese]  




Southeastern Asia, northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago; note - East Timor includes the eastern half of the island of Timor, the Oecussi (Ambeno) region on the northwest portion of the island of Timor, and the islands of Pulau Atauro and Pulau Jaco  
Geographic coordinates
8 50 S, 125 55 E  
Map references
total: 15,007 sq km land: NA sq km water: NA sq km  
Area comparative
slightly larger than Connecticut  
Land boundaries
total: 228 km border countries: Indonesia 228 km  
706 km  
Maritime claims
territorial sea: NA nm extended fishing zone: NA nm exclusive economic zone: NA nm continental shelf: NA nm exclusive fishing zone: NA nm  
tropical; hot, humid; distinct rainy and dry seasons  
Elevation extremes
lowest point: Timor Sea, Savu Sea, and Banda Sea 0 m highest point: Foho Tatamailau 2,963 m  
Natural resources
gold, petroleum, natural gas, manganese, marble  
Land use
arable land: 4.71% other: 94.62% (2001) permanent crops: 0.67%  
Irrigated land
1,065 sq km (est.)  
Natural hazards
floods and landslides are common; earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones  
Environment - current issues
widespread use of slash and burn agriculture has led to deforestation and soil erosion  
Environment - international agreements

Geography note

Timor comes from the Malay word for "East;" the island of Timor is part of the Malay Archipelago and is the largest and easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands  

Country name

conventional long form: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste conventional short form: East Timor local short form: Timor Lorosa'e [Tetum]; Timor-Leste [Portuguese] former: Portuguese Timor local long form: Republika Demokratika Timor Lorosa'e [Tetum]; Republica Democratica de Timor-Leste [Portuguese]  
Government type
Administrative divisions
13 administrative districts; Aileu, Ainaro, Baucau, Bobonaro (Maliana), Cova-Lima (Suai), Dili, Ermera, Lautem (Los Palos), Liquica, Manatuto, Manufahi (Same), Oecussi (Ambeno), Viqueque  
28 November 1975 (date of proclamation of independence from Portugal); note - 20 May 2002 is the official date of international recognition of East Timor's independence from Indonesia  
National holiday
Independence Day, 28 November (1975)  
22 March 2002 (based on the Portuguese model)  
Legal system
UN-drafted legal system based on Indonesian law (2002)  
17 years of age; universal  
Executive branch
chief of state: President Kay Rala Xanana GUSMAO (since 20 May 2002); note - the president plays a largely symbolic role but is able to veto some legislation; he formally used the name Jose Alexander GUSMAO head of government: Prime Minister Mari Bin Amude ALKATIRI (since 20 May 2002) cabinet: Council of State elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held 14 April 2002 (next to be held NA April 2007); after the first legislative elections, the leader of the majority party was appointed prime minister by the president, suggesting a precedent for the future election results: Kay Rala Xanana GUSMAO elected president; percent of vote - Kay Rala Xanana GUSMAO 82.7%, Francisco Xavier do AMARAL 17.3%  
Legislative branch
unicameral National Parliament (number of seats can vary, minimum requirement of 52 and a maximum of 65 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms); note - for its first term of office, the National Parliament is comprised of 88 members on an exceptional basis elections: (next to be held August 2006); direct elections for national parliament were never held; elected delegates to the national convention named themselves legislators instead of having elections; hence the exceptional numbers for this term of the national parliament. election results: percent of vote by party - FRETILIN 57.37%, PD 8.72%, PSD 8.18%, ASDT 7.84%, UDT 2.36%, PNT 2.21%, KOTA 2.13%, PPT 2.01%, PDC 1.98%, PST 1.78%, independents/other 5.42%; seats by party - FRETILIN 55, PD 7, PSD 6, ASDT 6, PDC 2, UDT 2, KOTA 2, PNT 2, PPT 2, UDC/PDC 1, PST 1, PL 1, independent 1  
Judicial branch
Supreme Court of Justice - constitution calls for one judge to be appointed by National Parliament and rest appointed by Superior Council for Judiciary; note - until Supreme Court is established, Court of Appeals is highest court  
Political parties and leaders
Associacao Social-Democrata Timorense or ASDT [Francisco Xavier do AMARAL]; Christian Democratic Party of Timor or PDC [Antonio XIMENES]; Christian Democratic Union of Timor or UDC [Vicente da Silva GUTERRES]; Democratic Party or PD [Fernando de ARAUJO]; Liberal Party or PL [leader NA]; Maubere Democratic Party or PDM [leader NA]; People's Party of Timor or PPT [Jacob XAVIER]; Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor or FRETILIN [Lu OLO]; Social Democrat Party of East Timor or PSD [Mario CARRASCALAO]; Socialist Party of Timor or PST [leader NA]; Sons of the Mountain Warriors (also known as Association of Timorese Heroes) or KOTA [Clementino dos Reis AMARAL]; Timor Democratic Union or UDT [Joao CARRASCALAO]; Timor Labor Party or PTT [Paulo Freitas DA SILVA]; Timorese Nationalist Party or PNT [Abilio ARAUJO]; Timorese Popular Democratic Association or APODETI [Frederico Almeida-Santos DA COSTA]  
Political pressure groups and leaders
the Popular Council for the Defense of the Democratic Republic of East Timor or CPD-RDTL is the largest political pressure group; it rejects the current government and claims to be the rightful government; it is led by Cristiano DA COSTA, a.k.a. Aitahan MATAK; Kolimau 2000 is another opposition group; leader is Dr. BRUNO (NFI) according to Indonesian press  
International organization participation
Diplomatic representation in the US
chief of mission: Ambassador Jose Luis GUTERRES consulate(s) general: New York (the ambassador resides in New York) (2003) FAX: 202 965-1517 telephone: 202 965-1515 chancery: 3415 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, DC 20007  
Diplomatic representation from the US
chief of mission: Ambassador Grover Joseph REES embassy: Vila 10, Avenida de Portugal, Farol, Dili mailing address: Department of State, 8250 Dili Place, Washington, DC 20521-8250 telephone: (670) 332-4684, 331-3205/3160/3472 FAX: (670) 331-3206  
East Timor - Flag

Flag description

red, with a black isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) superimposed on a slightly longer yellow arrowhead that extends to the center of the flag; there is a white star in the center of the black triangle


East Timor's church stands with the people

The Catholic church is the only indigenous Timorese institution which has been able to function somewhat freely since Indonesia invaded in 1975. As such, in a land where almost all institutions are controlled by the Indonesian military, the church plays a vital role. The East Timorese turn to the church for protection, to help them find missing family members and for other basic services such as health and education.

A people's church

In 1975 perhaps a third of the Timorese had adopted the faith brought by their Portuguese colonizers; today, almost all of the estimated one million people living in East Timor are professed Catholics. The others are transmigrants from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. East Timor has joined the Philippines as the only two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia.
Indonesian law requires everyone to declare allegiance to a monotheistic religion. Traditional Timorese animism does not meet the requirements for an "official" religion, and its practice has largely been absorbed by Catholicism - a religion that has changed to accommodate indigenous beliefs. The Diocese of East Timor remains separate from the Indonesian Church, directly administered by the Pope. It also has its own bishops.

To counter "Indonesianization" policies, the Catholic church in East Timor has encouraged the continuing use of the native language, Tetum, and Portuguese in church liturgies and in Catholic schools. To balance Indonesian government schools, the church has built up a strong chain of Catholic secondary schools, both academic and vocational. The church also runs desperately needed health clinics and orphanages. There is a Catholic radio station and a church commission to monitor human rights abuses.

Roman Catholic 90%, Islam 4%, Protestant 3%, Hindu 0.5%, Buddhist, animist (1992 est.)




The capital of East Timor is a pleasant, lazy city centred on a sweeping harbour, with parkland edging the waterfront on either side. There has always been a markedly different pace of life in Dili compared to Kupang, the major city on the western, Indonesian, end of the island.

Until the Indonesian takeover in 1975, Dili was the capital of the former colony of Portuguese Timor, and it still has the feel of a tropical Portuguese outpost. Badly damaged during the Indonesian mayhem in 1999, transitional elevated prices have gradually spiralled back to more sensible levels.



Baucau, the second-largest town in East Timor, is still charming, despite the ravages of 1999. The two-hour drive east along the coast from Dili via Manatuto is gorgeous, with clear water and beaches along the way


The isolated former Portuguese coastal enclave of Oecussi, also known as Ambeno, is politically part of East Timor, but is geographically and culturally part of West Timor. It was about 95% destroyed in 1999 and the small population is scattered throughout the province in hamlets.

Pantemakassar, more commonly called Oecussi town, is significant to the East Timorese as the first permanent Portuguese settlement in Timor. It is a sleepy coastal town sandwiched between the hills and the coast. The reef about ten metres off-shore in the clear water offers spectacular snorkelling.



The forests in the region of Saui were important sources of sandalwood, teak and vanilla during Portuguese times, but unsustainable logging practices during Indonesian rule have whittled away this valuable resource.



East Timor is made up of the eastern half of the island of Timor, which lies at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, to the north of Australia. It also includes the enclave of Oecussi (also known as Ambeno) on the north coast, 70km (42mi) to the west and surrounded by Indonesian West Timor. Once part of the Australian continental shelf, Timor only fully emerged from the ocean some four million years ago, and is therefore comprised mainly of marine sediment, principally limestone. Rugged mountains run the length of the island, the highest being Mt Ramelau (2963m/9700ft) in East Timor. Coastal plains are narrow, and there are no major highland valleys or significant rivers. The mix of rocky soil and low rainfall makes agriculture difficult, resulting in food and water shortages in the dry season.East Timor has extreme wet and dry seasons. From May to November, the north coast receives virtually no rain, causing agricultural activity to all but cease. The cooler central mountains and south coast get an occasional shower during this time, and are greener as a result. Everything turns green when the wet comes, but the rains often turn to floods and the dry-season rivers of dust become torrents.

Dili is dry, with an average rainfall of around 1000mm (39in), most of it falling from December to March. Temperatures on the north coast reach 35°C (95°F) or more around October/November. In the lowland areas they're a slightly more comfortable 30°C (85°F), dropping to the low 20s (low 70s) overnight. In the mountains, day temperatures are still warm to hot but night temperatures are appreciably cooler, and downright chilly at high altitudes



UNICEF has developed a consolidated national Database on Primary School as a basis for distribution of food to teachers for school feeding for students and for payment of teacher incentives. This Database is in high demand by other international/national agencies undertaking education activities in East Timor.

Other activities include efforts to ensure an adequate level of pay for teachers, supplying UNICEF's School-in-a-Box and recreational/sporting kits, and distribution of building materials for the rehabilitation of approximately 90 schools. Primary Teacher Training began on 10 January in Dili and follow-up training will continue throughout the year, moving to cluster schools at district and sub-district level.

In late 1999, about 70% of the economic infrastructure of East Timor was laid waste by Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias, and 300,000 people fled westward. Over the next three years, however, a massive international program, manned by 5,000 peacekeepers (8,000 at peak) and 1,300 police officers, led to substantial reconstruction in both urban and rural areas. By 2003, all but about 30,000 of the refugees had returned. Growth was held back in 2003 by extensive drought and the gradual winding down of the international presence. The country faces great challenges in continuing the rebuilding of infrastructure, strengthening the infant civil administration, and generating jobs for young people entering the workforce. One promising long-term project is the planned development of oil and gas resources in nearby waters, which have begun to supplement government revenues ahead of schedule.

Medical care is extremely limited. The main facility is the National Hospital, which was damaged after the recent independence ballot, but which is being refurbished. Basic emergency services are available in Dili, but may be unobtainable elsewhere. Most doctors and hospitals will expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel health insurance. Serious medical problems will require air evacuation to a country with state-of-the art medical facilities. Medical care is extremely limited. The main facility is the National Hospital, which was damaged after the recent independence ballot, but which is being refurbished. Basic emergency services are available in Dili, but may be unobtainable elsewhere. Most doctors and hospitals will expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel health insurance. Serious medical problems will require air evacuation to a country with state-of-the art medical facilities.
Medical Facilities

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Do not drink tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered, or chemically disinfected.

Do not drink unbottled beverages or drinks with ice. Do not eat fruits or vegetables unless they have been peeled or cooked. Avoid cooked foods that are no longer piping hot. Cooked foods that have been left at room temperature are particularly hazardous. Avoid unpasteurized milk and any products that might have been made from unpasteurized milk, such as ice cream. Avoid food and beverages obtained from street vendors. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or fish. Some types of fish may contain poisonous biotoxins even when cooked. Barracuda in particular should never be eaten. Other fish that may contain toxins include red snapper, grouper, amberjack, sea bass, and a large number of tropical reef fish.All travelers should bring along an antibiotic and an antidiarrheal drug to be started promptly if significant diarrhea occurs, defined as three or more loose stools in an 8-hour period or five or more loose stools in a 24-hour period, especially if accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cramps, fever or blood in the stool.
Food and Water Precautions
Antibiotics which have been shown to be effective include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), rifaximin (Xifaxan), or azithromycin (Zithromax). Either loperamide (Imodium) or diphenoxylate (Lomotil) should be taken in addition to the antibiotic to reduce diarrhea and prevent dehydration.

If diarrhea is severe or bloody, or if fever occurs with shaking chills, or if abdominal pain becomes marked, or if diarrhea persists for more than 72 hours, medical attention should be sought.

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While security in East Timor remains good, UN staff in Dili have been asked to take "sensible precautions to ensure the safety of themselves and their belongings" due to a noted increase in crime and civil disorder, based on incidents between rival gangs and unauthorized entry of homes of international staff working for NGOs or the UN.

In a demonstration held in front of the UNTAET office on 5 January, protesters sought increases in wages, better youth employment generation opportunities, improved food distribution and accelerated delivery of shelter materials. Because unemployment remains a major concern, UNTAET has launched a one million US$ Quick Impact Project.

As of 7 January, a total of 127,088 displaced persons had returned to East Timor from the western border.

Latest Development

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Bring adequate supplies of all medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. Carry a signed, dated letter from the primary physician describing all medical conditions and listing all medications, including generic names. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to carry a physician's letter documenting their medical necessity.Pack all medications in hand luggage. Carry a duplicate supply in the checked luggage. If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair. If you have significant allergies or chronic medical problems, wear a medical alert bracelet. Make sure your health insurance covers you for medical expenses abroad. If not, supplemental insurance for overseas coverage, including possible evacuation, should be seriously considered. If illness occurs while abroad, medical expenses including evacuation may run to tens of thousands of dollars. For a list of travel insurance and air ambulance companies, go to Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad on the U.S. State Department website. Bring your insurance card, claim forms, and any other relevant insurance documents. Before departure, determine whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.

General Advice

The Medicare and Medicaid programs do not pay for medical services outside the United States. Pack a personal medical kit, customized for your trip (see description). Take appropriate measures to prevent motion sickness and jet lag, discussed elsewhere. On long flights, be sure to walk around the cabin, contract your leg muscles periodically, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent blood clots in the legs. For those at high risk for blood clots, consider wearing compression stockings.

Avoid contact with stray dogs and other animals. If an animal bites or scratches you, clean the wound with large amounts of soap and water and contact local health authorities immediately. Wear sun block regularly when needed. Use condoms for all sexual encounters. Ride only in motor vehicles with seat belts. Do not ride on motorcycles.


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