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East Timor

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East Timor is a sovereign state in Maritime Southeast Asia. It is formally known as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. It consists of the eastern half of the island of Timor; the neighboring islands of Atauro and Jaco; and Oecusse, a self-governing exclave on the island’s northern coast bordered by Indonesian West Timor. The nation has an area of about 15,410 kilometers square (5,400 sq mi).

East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century and referred to as Portuguese Timor until November 1975, when the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) proclaimed independence. It was attacked and conquered by Indonesia nine days later and was designated Indonesia’s 27th province the following year. The Indonesian occupation of East Timor was marked by a bloody war between separatist organizations (particularly FRETILIN) and the Indonesian military that lasted decades.

Indonesia ceded sovereignty of the region in 1999, after the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination. On 20 May 2002, East Timor became the twenty-first century’s first new sovereign state, joining the United Nations and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. East Timor declared its desire to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2011 by seeking to become the organization’s eleventh member. It is one of Southeast Asia’s only two mainly Christian countries, the other being the Philippines.

East Timor | Introduction

East Timor, the eastern half of the island of Timor, is a former Portuguese colony that proclaimed independence from Portugal on November 28, 1975. Indonesian troops attacked and seized the former colony nine days later, with the tacit consent of the United States and Australia. The colony has been incorporated as the province of Timor Timur by July 1976.

Over the following two decades, Indonesia integrated the colony, with Indonesians filling many important positions of power rather than East Timorese. An estimated 100,000-250,000 people are said to have died during a pacification operation during this period.

On August 30, 1999, the United Nations oversaw a popular referendum in which the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Following the announcement of the results, gangs of independence opponents, backed by the Indonesian military, terrorized the populace in a civil war that destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure. A United Nations peacekeeping force headed by Australian troops was brought in to rebuild the country and re-establish civil society.

East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state on May 20, 2002, under the official name of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.

Geography

Timor is the biggest and easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia. It is part of Maritime Southeast Asia. The Ombai Strait, Wetar Strait, and the larger Banda Sea are located to the north of the island. The Timor Sea divides East Timor from Australia to the south, while the Indonesian Province of East Nusa Tenggara is to the west.

Much of the nation is mountainous, with the highest peak at 2,963 meters being Tatamailau (also known as Mount Ramelau) (9,721 ft). The climate is tropical, which means it’s hot and humid most of the time. Its seasons are distinguished by different wet and dry periods. Dili is the capital, biggest city, and major port, while Baucau, in the east, is the second-largest city. East Timor is located between the latitudes of 8° and 10° South and the longitudes of 124° and 128° East.

The Paitchau Range and the Lake Ira Lalaro area comprise East Timor’s easternmost region, which includes the county’s first conservation area, the Nino Konis Santana National Park. It is home to the country’s only surviving tropical dry wooded region. It is sparsely inhabited and home to a variety of unusual plant and animal species. The northern shore is distinguished by a variety of coral reef systems that have been identified as vulnerable.

Climate

East Timor’s climate is hot and humid (tropical). The rainy season lasts from November to May, with temperatures averaging 30oC all year, but temperatures are much lower in higher altitude regions.

The dry season lasts about 6 months, from June to October.

The rainy season in East Timor may cause road degradation, making travel to distant district regions difficult.

Demographics

East Timor had a population of 1,167,242 according to the 2015 census.

The name Maubere, which was formerly used by the Portuguese to refer to native East Timorese and was often used as a synonym for the illiterate and ignorant, was adopted as a term of pride by FReTiLIn. East Timorese are divided into many ethnic groups, the majority of them of Malayo-Polynesian or Melanesian/Papuan ancestry. The Tetum (100,000), primarily on the north coast and around Dili; the Mambai (80,000) in the central mountains; the Tukudede (63,170), in the area around Maubara and Liquiçá; the Galoli (50,000), between the tribes of Mambae and Makasae; the Kemak (50,000) in north-central Timor island; and the Baikeno (20,000) in the area around Pante Macassar

The major tribes of mainly Papuan ancestry include the Bunak (50,000), who live in Timor’s central core; the Fataluku (30,000), who are near the island’s eastern tip at Lospalos; and the Makasae, who live near the island’s eastern end. As a consequence of interracial marriage, which was widespread during the Portuguese period, there is a community of individuals of mixed East Timorese and Portuguese ancestry, known as mestiços in Portuguese. A tiny Chinese minority exists, the most of whom are Hakka. In the mid-1970s, many Chinese departed.

Religion

According to the 2010 census, 96.9 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 2.2 percent is Protestant or Evangelical, 0.3 percent is Muslim, and 0.5 percent practice another or no religion.

The number of churches has increased from 100 in 1974 to over 800 in 1994, with church membership increasing significantly under Indonesian rule because Pancasila, Indonesia’s official philosophy, demands all people to believe in one God and rejects traditional faiths. In rural regions, Roman Catholicism coexists with indigenous customs.

While Section 45 Comma 1 of the East Timor Constitution enshrines the values of religious freedom and separation of church and state, it also recognizes “the involvement of the Catholic Church in the struggle of national liberation” in its preamble, which has no legal force. When it gained independence, it joined the Philippines as Asia’s only two mainly Roman Catholic nations, but neighboring areas of eastern Indonesia, such as West Timor and Flores, also had Roman Catholic majorities.

East Timor is divided into three dioceses by the Roman Catholic Church: the Diocese of Dli, the Diocese of Baucau, and the Diocese of Maliana.

Economy

East Timor has a market economy that was formerly based on the export of a few commodities such as coffee, marble, oil, and sandalwood. East Timor’s GDP increased by approximately 10% in 2011 and a similar amount in 2012.

Timor currently has income from offshore oil and gas deposits, but only a small portion of it has gone toward developing communities, which depend on subsistence farming. Nearly half of the population is impoverished.

The Timor-Leste Petroleum Fund was created in 2005 and has grown to a value of US$8.7 billion by 2011. The International Monetary Fund has designated East Timor as the world’s “most oil-dependent economy.” The Petroleum Fund covers almost all of the government’s yearly budget, which has grown from $70 million in 2004 to $1.3 billion in 2011, with a $1.8 billion plan for 2012.

The economy is reliant on government expenditure and, to a lesser degree, foreign donor aid. Human capital limitations, infrastructural weakness, an inadequate legal system, and an ineffective regulatory environment have all slowed private sector growth. Coffee is the second biggest export after petroleum, generating about $10 million per year. Starbucks is a significant buyer of East Timorese coffee.

In 2012, the nation gathered 9,000 tonnes of coffee, 108 tonnes of cinnamon, and 161 tonnes of cocoa, placing it as the 40th largest producer of coffee, 6th largest producer of cinnamon, and 50th largest producer of cocoa in the world.

According to 2010 census statistics, 87.7 percent of urban (321,043 people) and 18.9 percent of rural (821,459 people) homes have electricity, for a total of 38.2 percent.

Agriculture employs 80 percent of the working population. In 2009, about 67,000 families in East Timor cultivated coffee, with a significant percentage of them being impoverished. Currently, gross margins are about $120 per hectare, with labor-day returns of around $3.70. As of 2009, there were 11,000 households producing mungbeans, the most of them were subsistence farmers.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2013 report, the nation was rated 169th worldwide and worst in the East Asia and Pacific region. The nation performed especially badly in the areas of “registering property,” “enforcing contracts,” and “resolving insolvency,” placing last in all three.

In terms of telecommunications infrastructure, East Timor is the second-to-last Asian nation in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI), behind only Myanmar in Southeast Asia. NRI is a metric used to assess the degree of development of a country’s information and communication technology. In the 2014 NRI rating, East Timor was placed 141st overall, down from 134th in 2013.

Oceanic Exploration Corporation was given concessions by the Portuguese colonial government to explore petroleum and natural gas resources in the seas southeast of Timor. The Indonesian invasion in 1976, however, put a stop to this. The Timor Gap Treaty of 1989 split the resources between Indonesia and Australia. When East Timor gained independence, it inherited no fixed maritime borders. A temporary agreement (the Timor Sea Treaty, signed on 20 May 2002, when East Timor gained independence) established a Joint Petroleum Development Region (JPDA) and allocated 90 percent of income from existing projects in that area to East Timor and 10 percent to Australia. A 2005 agreement between the governments of East Timor and Australia mandated that both countries set aside their maritime boundary dispute and that East Timor would receive 50 percent of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise development (estimated at A$26 billion, or about US$20 billion over the project’s lifetime). East Timor filed a lawsuit at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 to withdraw from a gas deal agreed with Australia, alleging the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) of tapping the East Timorese cabinet chamber in Dili in 2004.

In East Timor, there are no patent laws. A Timor Railway System has been proposed, but owing to a lack of money and competence, the present administration has yet to push for it.

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