East Timor country profile

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.



President: Francisco Guterres (aka Lu Olo)

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
President Francisco Guterres is a veteran of East Timor's independence struggle

Francisco Guterres was sworn in as president of East Timor in May 2017, pledging to boost health and education.

Commonly known as "Lu Olo", Mr Guterres leads the centre-left Fretilin party and is a former guerrilla, having fought against Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

He led the draft of the country's first constitution in 2001 and mounted failed bids for the presidency in 2008 and 2012.

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


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

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