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1. East Timor – or, The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste – is a small country beside Indonesia, just North of Australia. Here it is:
2. East Timor has historically been colonized and occupied by a number of countries. As the BBC writes, Timor was first invaded by the Portuguese in the 1600s and was used as a trading post and source of sandalwood. In 1749, Timor split in half after an invasion by the Dutch – the Dutch took control of West Timor, and the Portuguese retained control of East Timor. Between 1942 and 1945, East Timor fell under Japanese control, and was a battleground of WWI, in which up to 60 000 east Timorese were killed. In 1974, revolution in Portugal led to the promise of freedom for the colonies, and in November 1975 a brief civil war led to the declaration of East Timor’s independence by the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.
3. East Timor was not free for very long. In December of 1975, Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor citing the fight against communism as a pretext. This led to a regime of intense repression and famine, in which 200 000 are thought to have been killed.
5. The Indonesian stronghold on East Timor began to loosen in January of 1999, and in May of that year, Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement to allow the people of East Timor to vote on the future of their state. The UN-run referendum saw mass participation – almost 99% of a 450,000-strong electorate voted – and results showed that 78% of voters favored independence.
6. Indonesia, however, wouldn’t give up their hold on East Timor without a fight. In September 1999, shortly after the referendum, violence exploded as an anti-independence militia (helped by the Indonesian government) established martial law. It is thought that 1 000 people were killed, and a quarter of the population fled, primarily to West Timor.
7. Still in September 1999, Australian-led peacekeepers arrive and restore order. The Indonesian parliament recognizes the outcome of the referendum, and the next month the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is established.
8. In May of 2002, East Timor becomes independent. Between 2002-2006, negotiations attempt to find peace and reconciliation between the Indonesians and East Timorese.
9. In 2006, foreign troops were again called to East Timor after violence erupts at the hands of former soldiers. In August, a non-military peacekeeping mission, the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor, or Unmit, is set up.
10. In 2009, UN forces leave East Timor for the first time since 2006, but the country still faces large wounds from its history today.
Neekoo Collett is an honours political science student. She attended the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies’ University Programme this summer at the University of Toronto. She hopes to be useful in preventing and ending genocides, but is still trying to figure out how.