East Timor country profile

  • 4 September 2015
  • From the section Asia
Map of East Timor

East Timor's road to independence - achieved on 20 May 2002 - was long and traumatic.

The people of the first new nation of the century suffered some of the worst atrocities of modern times in their struggle for self-determination.

When their Portuguese colonial masters withdrew in 1975, Indonesia claimed the territory for itself and ruthlessly suppressed the independence movement.

Eventually the UN took over the administration and supervised the territory's transition to independence.


Democratic Republic of East Timor

Capital: Dili

  • Population 1.2 million

  • Area 14,609 sq km (5,641 sq miles)

  • Major languages Tetum and Portuguese (official), Indonesian and English (working languages)

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 62 years (men), 64 years (women)

  • Currency US dollar



President: Taur Matan Ruak

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Taur Matan Ruak (left) is veteran of the independence struggle while Prime Minister Rui Araujo is a former health minister

Taur Matan Ruak became president in May 2012 after winning the presidential runoff election.

He had served as defence chief for a decade when he resigned in 2011 to run for the presidency.

He is better known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak (A Pair of Keen Eyes), adopted during the Timorese guerrilla campaign against Indonesian rule.

The president has limited executive power. He chooses the prime minister after elections.

Prime minister: Rui Araujo

Opposition politician Rui Araujo was picked as prime minister in February 2015 as part of efforts to form a national unity government, following the resignation of independence hero Xanana Gusmao.


Image copyright STL Online

Radio is the most popular medium and there are several community radios on air.

There are a handful of daily and weekly press titles but a low rate of literacy limits readership.

The UN telecom body lists East Timor as being among the world's 10 least-connected nations.


Some key dates in East Timor's history:

1600s - Portuguese invade Timor, set up trading post and use island as source of sandalwood.

1749 - Timor split following battle between Portuguese and Dutch. Portuguese take the eastern half.

1942 - Japanese invade, fighting battles with Australian troops. Up to 60,000 East Timorese are killed. Japan in control until 1945.

1974 - Coup in Lisbon leads to a new Portuguese government that begins policy of decolonisation.

1975 - Portuguese administration withdraws to offshore island of Atauro. After brief civil war, left-wing Fretilin party unilaterally declares East Timor independent.

Indonesian troops invade. More than 200,000 people - a quarter of the population - killed by fighting, famine and disease that follow the invasion and during Indonesian occupation.

1999 - After a change of leadership in Indonesia, East Timorese are allowed to vote in an independence ballot.

1999 September - After 78% of voters opt for independence, anti-independence militia resume campaign of terror. UN takes over administration and prepares territory for independence.

2002 - East Timor becomes independent.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Refugees return to East Timor after Indonesia military pull out in November 1999

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