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East Timor

The eastern part of the island of Timor was a Portuguese colony from the mid-sixteenth century until 1975. In the early part of that year, the Portuguese Government began negotiations with the local representatives on the transition to independence. The situation in East Timor deteriorated during that year, and FRETILIN, one of the nationalist parties, declared East Timor independent in November 1975. Indonesia invaded in December 1975, and formally annexed East Timor in July 1976.

A campaign of pacification followed over the next two decades. In the 1990's resistance to Indonesian rule increased and in 1999 Indonesia finally agreed to let the East Timorese choose between independence and local autonomy. In September 1999, a UN organised referendum showed overwhelming support for independence and the twenty five year occupation of Timor-Leste by Indonesian forces came to an end.

The UN governed Timor-Leste in the wake of the withdrawal of Indonesia. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established with full legislative and executive authority to oversee a transition to a fully independent state. Following elections in August 2001 for a Constituent Assembly, a Transitional Government was installed which in May 2002 became the first Constitutional Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

The Government
Timor-Leste is a Democratic Republic with a multi-party political system. Parliament is dominated by Frente Revoluionaria de Independente (FRETILIN) under the control of Prime Minister, Dr. Mari Alkatiri. They have an overall majority in the current Parliament, winning 55 out of 88 seats. The remaining seats are divided between 10 parties, and one independent. Xanana Gusmao a former guerrilla leader was elected as a non-executive President on 14 April 2002 with 82% of votes. Parliamentary and presidential elections are due in 2007.

Current Situation
Since Independence, Timor-Leste has worked to build good relations with Indonesia. Of the 250,000 refugees who were displaced in West Timor, approximately 220,000 have now returned. In response to the legacy of past abuses and the need for public acknowledgement of them, a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation was established in 2002 to undertake a truth-seeking enquiry into the past and to encourage community reconciliation, reception and victim support. Public hearings followed and a report was presented to Government at the end of 2005 with its findings and recommendations for further Government action.

In 2002, a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) was established to deal with residual bilateral issues, followed in March 2005 by a joint Commission on Truth and Friendship to deal with human rights abuses in 1999. President Yudhiyono of Indonesia visited Timor-Leste in April 2005. Agreement on the land border is almost complete and negotiations on the maritime boundary will follow. Timor-Leste and Australia have agreed a joint exploitation of the petroleum resources of the Timor Sea, with a 50 year moratorium on maritime boundaries.

Relations with Ireland
A decision to establish diplomatic relations was taken by the Government on 15 October, 2002. A Joint Communiqué was signed by the Permanent Representatives of Ireland and Timor-Leste to the UN, on 31 January 2003.

John Cleese
East Timor