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Country Facts

Area: 5,642 sq miles; 14,609 sq km
Population: 1,154,000 (2010 estimate)
Capital City: Dili
People: The main ethnic group is the self-designated Tetum people, who number around 300,000. The most notable of the other ethnic groups are: the Mambai, the Makasai, the Kemak, the Galoli, the Tokodede, the Bunak, and the Fataluku, all with their own languages.
Languages: Official languages: Tetum and Portuguese. Also spoken: Bahasa Indonesia.
Religion: Predominantly (over 90%) Catholic plus small Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities.
Currency: US Dollar
Major Political Parties: CNRT - National Congress of East Timor Reconstruction; FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor; PD - Democratic Party; PSD - Social Democratic Party.
President: Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
Prime Minister and Minister for Defence: Mr Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao
Minister of State, Foreign Affairs and Co-operation: Dr Zacarias Albano Da Costa
Membership of International Groupings: UN; World Bank; International Monetary Fund; Asian Development Bank; Non Aligned Movement (NAM); INTERPOL; Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP).

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$599m (2009)
GDP per capita: $519()
Major Exports: Coffee, oil and natural gas.
The East Timorese Government faces an uphill struggle in developing the country's economy. East Timor was rated 122 out of 168 countries in the Human Development Index in the 2010 UN Human Development Report. GDP rose in 2009 by 7.5%.

The country faces many challenges. One of the biggest inhibitors to improved economic performance is the lack of educated or skilled personnel. Weak public institutions also hinder government efforts to tackle problems. Inadequate infrastructure compounds these difficulties and political instability has been an additional obstacle to progress. Unemployment and population growth are both high. East Timor’s petroleum reserves are the potential key to the country’s prosperity. The government has established a trust fund to manage its petroleum revenues sustainably. At the end of December 2010 the fund’s balance stood at US$6.9bn.

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Portuguese contact with Timor dates from between 1512-20. In the 17th century Timor was disputed between the Netherlands and Portugal. The two colonial powers divided the island; the Netherlands took the western half, which became part of the Dutch East Indies and later Indonesia; the eastern half (and Oecussi-Ambeno) became a Portuguese colony in 1702. East Timor remained under Portuguese rule until 1974-75 when the Portuguese colonial empire disintegrated. The East Timorese hoped that the collapse of Portuguese authority would end colonial rule. The two main parties favouring independence - the Uniao Democratica de Timor (UDT) and Frente Revolucionaria de Timor Leste (FRETILIN) - bitterly opposed each other and the territory gradually subsided into civil war. In November 1975 FRETILIN made a unilateral declaration of independence. Jakarta, fearing that FRETILIN represented the potential of a communist influenced state in Indonesia's midst, had initially supported the Associaco Popular Democratica de Timor (APODETI). APODETI, which favoured East Timor's integration into Indonesia, initially had little support but gained some UDT backing following FRETILIN's declaration of independence. Indonesia now took more assertive action: in December 1975 its troops launched a full-scale invasion. In the ensuing violence and chaos, including famine, an estimated 100,000-200,000 East Timorese died.

Following the resignation of Indonesian President Suharto in May 1998, Suharto's successor, B J Habibie, agreed that the people of East Timor would be given a chance to vote on the future of their territory. They were not offered the option of independence directly. Instead, they were given the chance to accept or reject a package, which would have given the territory a large measure of autonomy within Indonesia.

The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) organised a ballot on 30 August 1999. Following a 98.5% turn out, 78.5% of the population voted against autonomy and so implicitly in favour of independence. Violence by the pro-integrationist militia groups escalated on 4 September. After considerable international pressure, the Indonesian President accepted the deployment to East Timor of a multi-national force under UN auspices (INTERFET) to restore order. United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1272 of 25 October 1999 established the United Nations Transitional Administration of East Timor (UNTAET) and gave it responsibility for administering East Timor and preparing it for self-government.

On 20 May 2002, the UN handed over control to the first democratically elected government of East Timor and UNTAET gave way to the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). UNMISET was established by UNSC Resolution 1410, initially until May 2002 but later extended to May 2003, to assist the East Timorese government with core administrative functions, and to provide interim internal and external security. The UNSC agreed in May 2004 to further extend the mandate of UNMISET for a period of six months, with a view to subsequently extending the mandate for a further and final period of six months, until May 2005.

In May 2005, the UNSC passed resolution 1599 establishing a UN Office in Timor Leste (UNOTIL) with a mandate until 20 May 2006. However, following unrest in spring 2006, the Security Council agreed to an extension of UNOTIL until 25 August 2006. On this day UNSC Resolution 1704 established a new UN mission in East Timor – UNMIT – United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor. The mandate of this mission includes bringing about a process of national reconciliation and the restoration and maintenance of public security. UNMIT’s current mandate expires on 26 February 2012.


-- 1974: Following a change of government, Portugal acknowledges the right of the colonial territories under its administration to self-determination.

-- 1975: In August the UDT mounts a pre-emptive coup against Portuguese authority and FRETILIN; East Timor slides into civil war between the parties favouring independence (but also including APODETI in support of the UDT). The Portuguese administrators withdraw to Atauro island, situated off the coast of the capital, Dili. FRETILIN gain the upper hand and, in November, make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The UDT and APODETI oppose this.

-- 7 December 1975: Indonesian “volunteers” cross the border to assist the UDT/APODETI, followed by a full-scale military invasion.

-- 22 December 1975: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 384 calling on all States to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor and on Indonesia to withdraw its forces from the territory.

-- 1976: Indonesia annexes East Timor as its twenty-seventh province. Many killed in the violence and famine that followed.

-- 1 October 1996: Bishop Carlos Belo and exiled activist Jose Ramos-Horta receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

-- 21 May 1998 President Suharto of Indonesia falls.

-- 7 May 1999: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1236 welcoming the conclusion of an agreement between Indonesia and Portugal on a framework for consulting the people of East Timor.

-- 11 June 1999: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1246 establishing the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET).

-- 30 August 1999: Nearly 99% turn out for East Timor Popular Consultation.

-- 4 September 1999: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announces 78.5% of East Timorese voted for independence. Followed by widespread violence by pro-integrationist militia groups.

-- 6 September 1999: Militia violence begins in earnest; a huge proportion of the population displaced; refugees flee.

-- 15 September 1999: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1264 approving multi-national peacekeeping force for East Timor.

-- 20 September 1999: Multinational force enters East Timor to restore order.

-- 22 October 1999: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1272 establishing the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

-- 26 October 1999: UN takes direct responsibility for East Timor.

-- 30 August 2001: First democratic elections for the Constituent Assembly.

-- 15 September 2001: Inauguration of the Constituent Assembly.

-- 14 March 2002: Start of the Ad Hoc Tribunal for East Timor in Jakarta.

-- 22 March 2002: Adoption of the Constitution.

-- 14 April 2002: Presidential election. Xanana Gusmao becomes the first President of East Timor.

-- 17 May 2002: Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1410 establishing the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).

-- 20 May 2002: Official handover of sovereignty from UNTAET to East Timor government and celebration of Independence. UNMISET mandate begins. Timor Sea Treaty signed with Australia.

-- 27 September 2002: East Timor becomes 191st member of the United Nations.

-- April 2006: Government invites UN security force following widespread unrest.

-- 9 May 2007: Dr Jose Ramos-Horta elected President.

-- 8 August 2007: Dr Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao sworn in as Prime Minister.

-- 11 February 2008: President Ramos-Horta shot and severely wounded in an attack. Gusmao unhurt in separate attack.

BBC News Country Timeline: East Timor (

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East Timor joined the United Nations on 27 September 2002. It became a member of the Non Aligned Movement on 24 February 2003 and, in July 2005, a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. The country has signalled its wish to join ASEAN (the South East Asian grouping). East Timor's key bilateral relationships are with Indonesia, Australia and Portugal.

Relations between East Timor and Indonesia

The two countries have full diplomatic relations. A Joint Ministerial Commission for Bilateral Co-operation to address social and border issues, co-operation on trade and finance, educational and cultural affairs, transport and telecommunication as well as legal matters has been established. A land border agreement covering 96% of the border with Indonesia was signed in April 2005. Prime Minister Alkatiri visited Indonesia in October 2004 to attend Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s inauguration. In 2005, President Yudhoyono paid a successful visit to East Timor (see Human rights for Truth and Friendship Commission).

Relations between East Timor and Australia

Australia led the multinational INTERFET force that restored order in East Timor in 1999, and currently leads the International Stabilisation Force (ISF), deployed at the request of the East Timorese government following the unrest of April/May 2006. Australia is also a major provider of development assistance. On 20 May 2002, Australia and East Timor signed the Timor Sea Treaty, which provides for shared government royalties from petroleum production in the Timor Sea. The Treaty entered into force in April 2003, granting 90% of government royalties from the Joint Petroleum Development Area to East Timor and 10% to Australia.

The UK's relations with East Timor

The UK supports East Timor, through the UN, the EU and other international donors, in its efforts to obtain long term stability and prosperity. The UK has played a key role in negotiating the mandates of successive UN Missions to East Timor and has worked to ensure that the latest UNMIT mandate provides appropriate support to the East Timorese Government.

Diplomatic Representation

The British Embassy in East Timor closed on 14 October 2006. The British Ambassador to Indonesia is accredited to East Timor. East Timor does not have diplomatic representation in the UK. A Timorese Consular Agent is attached to the Portuguese Consulate in Manchester.

UK Development Assistance

Since 1999, the UK has played a key role in helping to rebuild East Timor. We have provided funding for elections, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), the Veterans Commissions, the provision of Legal Advisers to train the East Timorese Defence Force in discipline procedures and draft appropriate legislation, and Chevening scholarships and fellowships. In 2007, we provided £1 million to support the East Timor National Development Plan (NDP) through a Consolidated Support Programme (CSP) Trust Fund, with a small additional component to help the Government of East Timor to establish priorities and monitor progress in policy implementation. We also provided funding for projects such as a forestry management, human rights training, conflict resolution and the provision of solar power.

The UK’s programme of bilateral development assistance to East Timor ceased in April 2008. UK assistance to East Timor is now delivered entirely through the UK’s central funding contributions to the UN, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and European Commission.


-- 6-7 March 2011: Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão visited London
-- 6-7 March 2010: Foreign Minister da Costa visited Northern Ireland.
-- 16-18 March 2005: Prime Minister Alkatiri and Finance Minister Boavida visit the UK to attend Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) conference.
-- 7-11 June 2004: Dr Ramos-Horta, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.


-- 27-28 September 2005: HRH Princess Royal visits East Timor.

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Timor is an island 1,000 miles south of the Philippines and about 400 miles north-west of Australia. Timor is approximately 185 miles long and 45 miles wide. East Timor occupies the eastern half of the island, and has a boundary with West Timor, which is part of Indonesia. The enclave of Oecussi-Ambeno, which on its land side is surrounded by West Timor, is also part of East Timor.

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Dr Jose Ramos-Horta was sworn in as President on 20 May 2007, following his success in the presidential elections held in the spring of 2007. The most recent parliamentary elections were held on 30 June 2007. Dr Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao was sworn in as the Prime Minister, at the head of a coalition of political parties known as the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority (AMP), on 8 August 2007. Xanana Gusmao's National Congress of East Timor Reconstruction (CNRT) party won 18 seats, in the 65-member parliament, short of a majority, but formed a coalition with some smaller parties (ASDT-PSD and PD) which have 37 seats. FRETILIN, the single largest party, won 21 seats. The next parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2012.

Political Situation

In September 2001, following UN-supervised elections the previous month, East Timor’s first Constituent Assembly was inaugurated. In March 2002, that Assembly passed East Timor’s Constitution, formally establishing a parliament and the positions of both a Prime Minister and President. Under the Constitution, the President has a largely symbolic role. As Head of Government, the Prime Minister holds executive power.

East Timor held Presidential elections in April 2007. Francisco Guterres took 28.8% of the vote, Prime Minister Ramos-Horta gained 22.6%, and Fernando de Araujo won 19%. With none of the prospective candidates securing a majority of the vote, a second round was necessary. Ramos-Horta prevailed over Guterres, taking 69% of the popular vote and was sworn in as President on 20 May 2007. Estanislau da Silva took over as interim Prime Minister, replacing Ramos-Horta.

Following the 30 June 2007 parliamentary elections, President Ramos-Horta named former President Xanana Gusmão as Prime Minister. FRETILIN won the most seats in elections, but Gusmão had formed a majority coalition, called the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority07.

The Government of East Timor faces immediate and serious political, economic and social challenges. It has achieved some of its short-term priorities. The security situation is calm, although the risk of violence is still present, and they have largely resolved the problem of Internally Displaced People. Longer-term challenges are tackling employment and underemployment, rebuilding the security institutions and strengthening the institutional capacity of the public sector.

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Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation

In January 2002, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) was established to enquire into human rights violations committed in East Timor between April 1974 and October 1999. Its purpose was to assist the process of national reconciliation, and to ease the formal judicial system by allowing those responsible for less serious crimes to confess before a commission panel and do community service in atonement. The Commission presented its report to the President in October 2005. Copies of the report were sent to the UN Secretary-General, to the governments of East Timor and Indonesia, and others. The UK has given around £580,000 in funding to the CAVR.

Commission of Truth and Friendship

On 9 March 2005, a joint Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) accord was signed by the governments of East Timor and Indonesia. The Commission’s goals were “to conduct a shared inquiry with the aim of establishing the conclusive truth about reported human rights violations, and to make recommendations which can contribute to the healing of wounds of the past and to lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for both nations”.

On 15 July 2008, the Indonesian President Yudhoyono and President Jose Ramos-Horta, received the CTF’s report. In a joint statement they stated that they “accept the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Commission and recognise that gross violations of human rights occurred prior to and immediately after the popular consultation in East Timor in 1999”. They also committed to the faithful implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. Most analysts have indicated that this report is a positive step forward for the two countries. Whilst no recommendations were made for prosecutions of named individuals in relation to the crimes identified, nor were any amnesties offered.

Commission of Inquiry

The Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste was established to look into the outbreak of violence in Timor-Leste of April and May 2006. It came about following a request on 8 June 2006, from the then Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta (now President). On 12 June 2006, Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary-General, asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish the Commission. In its report, the Commission concluded that the fragility of various State institutions and the weakness of the rule of law were the underlying factors that contributed to the crisis. The Commission identified numerous persons suspected of direct participation in criminal activity during the crisis, and recommended they be prosecuted. Judicial processes have been initiated against some of those individuals.

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Last Updated: July 2011

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