East Timor

"Timor" derives from the Indonesian and Malay word meaning "east". East Timor literaly means "East East". The local name "Timor Lorosa'e" translates as "East Rising Sun".

Year:  2017

Area: 14,874 sq km

Population: 1,261,072 -- 158th in World

Flag: The flag is red with a black isosceles triangle superimposed on a slightly longer yellow arrowhead that extends to the center of the flag; a white star is in the center of the black triangle. Yellow denotes the colonialism in East Timor's past; black represents the backwardness that needs to be overcome; red stands for the national liberation struggle; the white star symbolizes peace and serves as a guiding light.

Little is known of Timor before 1500, though Chinese and Javanese traders visited the island from at least the 13th century, and possibly as early as the 7th century. These traders searched the coastal settlements for aromatic sandalwood, which was valued for its use in making furniture and incense, and for beeswax, used in making candles. Portuguese traders arrived between 1509 and 1511, but it wasn’t until 1556 that a handful of Dominican friars established the first Portuguese settlement at Lifau and set about converting the Timorese to Catholicism.

In 1642, Francisco Fernandes led a Portuguese military expedition to weaken the power of the Timor kings. Comprised primarily of the “black Portuguese,” people of mixed parentage, from neighboring Flores, his small army of musketeers settled in Timor, extending Portuguese influence into the interior.

To counter the Portuguese, the Dutch established a base at Kupang in western Timor in 1653. The Portuguese appointed an administrator to Lifau in 1656, but the “black Portuguese” went on to become a law unto themselves, driving out the Portuguese governor in 1705.

The 1859 Treaty of Lisbon divided Timor, giving Portugal the eastern half, together with the north coast pocket of Oecussi; this was formalized in 1904. Portuguese Timor was a sleepy and neglected outpost ruled through a traditional system of local chiefs.

In 1942, the Portuguese handed control to the Japanese whose soldiers razed whole villages, seized food supplies and killed the Timorese. By the end of the war, between 40,000 and 60,000 Timorese had died.

After World War II, the colony reverted to Portuguese rule until, following the coup in Portugal on April 25, 1974, Lisbon set about discarding its colonial empire. Within a few weeks, political parties formed in East Timor. After fighting between factions ceased, the Democratic Republic of East Timor was declared on November 28. But on December 7, the Indonesians launched their attack on Dili,the capital city.

Indonesia opposed the formation of an independent East Timor. By 1976, there were 35,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor. The cost of the brutal takeover to the East Timorese was huge; it’s estimated that at least 100,000 died in the hostilities and ensuing disease and famine.

By 1989, Indonesia had things firmly under control and opened East Timor to tourism. However, continuing international condemnation led to UN troops bringing peace to East Timor beginning in September, 1999. Half a million people had been displaced, and telecommunications, power installations, bridges, government buildings, shops and houses were destroyed. Today these scars are everywhere.

The UN handed over government to East Timor on May 20, 2002. Gas and oil deposits in the Timor Sea have the greatest potential to help East Timor’s economy to develop without the assistance of foreign aid. High in the hills above Dili is another resource -- coffee. Some 50,000 people work to produce the country’s sought-after arabica beans, noted for their cocoa and vanilla character. Shade-grown and mostly organic, Timorese coffee is prized by companies such as Starbucks, and production is increasing.

East Timor’s tourism industry has great potential, although there needs to be a perception of stability for numbers to grow beyond the 1,500 people who visit each year.

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