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February 2008

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

Timor-Leste (officially, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) is located in Southeast Asia, on the southernmost edge of the Indonesian archipelago, northwest of Australia; Dili is the capital city. Timor-Leste encompasses an area about 15,000 sq. km (slightly larger than the state of Connecticut), with a mountainous terrain and a tropical climate (hot, semi-arid) and rainy and dry seasons. The country includes the eastern half of Timor island as well as the Oecussi enclave in the northwest portion of Indonesian West Timor, and the islands of Atauro and Jaco.

The Portuguese began to trade with the island of Timor in the early 16th century and colonized it in mid-century. Skirmishing with the Dutch in the region eventually resulted in an 1859 treaty in which Portugal ceded the western portion of the island. Imperial Japan occupied Portugese Timor from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal resumed colonial authority after the Japanese defeat in World War II. East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 and was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July 1976 as the province of Timor Timur (East Timor). On 30 August 1999, in a UN-supervised popular referendum, an overwhelming majority of the people of Timor-Leste voted for independence from Indonesia.

On 20 September 1999 the Australian-led peacekeeping troops of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) deployed to the country and brought the violence to an end. On 20 May 2002, Timor-Leste was internationally recognized as an independent state. In late April 2006, internal tensions threatened the new nation's security. At the request of the Government of Timor-Leste, an Australian-led International Stabilization Force (ISF) deployed to Timor-Leste in late May. Approximately 80 ISF officers remained as of January 2008.

The mixed Malay and Pacific Islander culture of the Timorese people reflects the geography of the country on the border of those two cultural areas. Portuguese influence during the centuries of colonial rule resulted in a substantial majority of the population identifying itself as Roman Catholic. Some of those who consider themselves Catholic practice a mixed form of religion that includes local animist customs. As a result of the colonial education system and the 23-year Indonesian occupation, approximately 13.5% of Timorese speak Portuguese, 43.3% speak Bahasa Indonesia, and 5.8% speak English, according to the 2004 census. Tetum, the most common of the local languages, is spoken by approximately 91% of the population, although only 46.2% speak Tetum Prasa, the form of Tetum dominant in the Dili district. Mambae, Kemak, and Fataluku are also widely spoken. This linguistic diversity is reflected in the country's constitution, which designates Portuguese and Tetum as official languages and English and Bahasa Indonesia as working languages.

The natural resources of Timor-Lest include: gold, petroleum, natural gas, manganese, and marble. This parliamentary republic has a president as its head of state, with a prime minister as its head of government. The 2007 population estimate is 1,100,000, with a literacy rate of about 43%.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 02/2008