chapter  1
Pages 19

Timor-Leste (East Timor) is a small country located off the north-west coast of Australia, around 400 miles from Darwin. People from Melanesia and continental Asia inhabited the region from at least 20,000 BC and, from the fourteenth century, international traders began to use the sandalwood-rich island as a trading post. In 1702, Timor was officially established as a Portuguese colony (Jardine 1997).1 The island was divided into two parts, East and West, by the International Court in 1913. From this time, West Timor was governed by the Dutch (becoming part of Indonesia in 1949) and Timor-Leste (that includes the enclave of Oecusse in the West as well as the islands of Ataúro and Jaco) was retained by the Portuguese (ibid.; Taylor 2003). The Portuguese control of Timor-Leste continued, uninterrupted, until

World War II when Allied Dutch and Australian troops landed in the territory to block Japan’s advance to the south. They were not successful as by January 1943, after over a year of fighting, Japan controlled the whole island. Having supporting the allies, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 East Timorese lost their lives during this period (Gault-Williams 1990), many women were forced into sexual slavery, and local infrastructure was badly damaged. With Japan’s defeat in 1945, the Portuguese returned to their colonial post. Throughout its administration, Portugal did not invest in the country. By

the early 1970s, for instance, 93 per cent of the population remained illiterate (Simons 2000). Aside from services for senior officials, the capital Dili had no electricity, water supply, or telephone services. There were few paved roads and while an indigenous elite existed, within both urban and rural areas, most Timorese were relatively untouched by colonial powers (ibid.). Accordingly, while East Timorese people spoke Portuguese, practised Catholicism, and experienced state structures that reflected European traditions, most retained their agricultural, self-sufficient existence in small mountain villages controlled by traditional rulers (ibid.). This situation completely altered following an April 1974 coup2 in

Portugal. Immediately, Portugal began to withdraw from its colonies in Africa and Asia, leaving a power vacuum in Timor-Leste (Taylor 2003).

Three main parties, Fretilin (Front for an Independent East Timor), UDT (Timorese Democratic Union) and Apodeti (Timorese Popular Democratic Association), emerged and following a short civil war, Fretilin surfaced as the leading party (ibid.).3 The resulting period of peace was limited as for various reasons (including a desire to attain strategic claims on regional archipelago islands; to provide a lesson to other areas claiming independence; to benefit from oil reserves in the Timor Sea; and to fight alleged communism) the Indonesian government proposed that an independent Timor-Leste could not exist (Amnesty International 1977; Nairn 1997; Stanley 2008a; J. Taylor 2003). Commencing a campaign of destabilization – named Operasi Komodo

(Operation Komodo) – Indonesian forces staged military attacks on towns bordering West Timor, they began to solicit international support for Timor’s integration into Indonesia, they gathered intelligence, and they encouraged UDT leaders to undertake a coup (J. Taylor 1991). The subsequent attempted UDT-led uprising against Fretilin was not successful and, as shown below, this action led to long-term antagonism and violence between these two groups and their supporters. During this period of unrest and uncertainty, Portuguese officials removed themselves from the region and refused to participate in any decolonization processes. In some despair, and sensing that they were on their own, Fretilin leaders declared the independence of Timor-Leste at the United Nations (UN) on 28 November 1975. Just nine days later, and with the acquiescence of Western powers, the Indonesian government launched a sustained attack.4 The subsequent occupation lasted almost a quarter of a century. The recently completed Commission for Reception, Truth and

Reconciliation estimates that over 102,800 people, over an eighth of the population, were killed during this occupation (CAVR 2005). People died in ad hoc killing sprees, planned massacres, bombing raids, and ‘disappearances’; others died in military operations,5 such as the ‘fence of legs’ operation that used Timorese civilians as human shields when Indonesian troops went to search for Fretilin armed resisters. Tens of thousands were forcibly removed from their homes and land in the mountains, and slowly starved to death in low-lying, unfertile and malaria infested ‘resettlement camps’ established by the Indonesian military (Nairn 1997). Individuals thought to be sympathetic to Fretilin, and their military wing Falintil, were similarly exiled on the island of Ataúro where they suffered illness and starvation. In addition to these killings, other Timorese people were routinely raped, ill-treated, detained without trial, and tortured. More generally, Timorese people suffered all kinds of controls; for

instance, restrictions were placed on the gathering of groups, individuals had to obtain permits to travel beyond their immediate neighbourhood, they experienced periodic curfews and house-to-house searches, their mail was checked, and cultural events were monitored (Amnesty International 1985, 1993). These restrictions on movement and residence were part of a strategy

to control the population; however, they also marked military attempts to ‘resocialize’ the people into willing workers (J. Taylor 2003: 175). Indonesian officials coerced villagers into work and the Timorese were directed to provide labour for the Indonesian infrastructure and for cash crops (Nairn 1997). In particular, the Indonesian military took control of coffee plantations and used the revenues to offset their costs (D. Jenkins 1980). Compared to the Portuguese administration, Indonesia did spend time

and funds on the development of Timor-Leste. During occupation, schools were opened, roads were built, health services were implemented, and farming procedures were modernized (Sherlock 1996). However, the main beneficiaries of these ‘improvements’ were the new Indonesian immigrants who were given favoured status (International Commission of Jurists 1992). Educated East Timorese struggled to attain work, even in unskilled professions, and had to prove their loyalty by acquiring Indonesian citizenship for government positions (CAVR 2005). These experiences created antagonism between young East Timorese and the Indonesian regime, and they contributed to the emergence of a new wave of resistance from the early 1990s (Sherlock 1996). Added to that, East Timorese were deeply suspicious of the new services provided and saw many provisions as an extension of the control apparatus. As Martinho explained: