History of Struggle

2010 April History of Struggle
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Miriam Kroker

Timor-Leste is a small but complex country. There was no notion of national unity in Timor-Leste until 2006. Until then, the country struggled through decades of forced occupation and civil unrest. The Portuguese colonised Timor-Leste in the early 1600s and began the commercial exploitation of resources, such as sandalwood, coffee, sugar cane and cotton.

In 1976 the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste was declared an independent nation, only to be invaded by Indonesia nine days later. Indonesian military forces violently suppressed Timor’s resistance movement and more than 200,000 Timorese are reported to have died from famine, disease and fighting during the Indonesian occupation.

In 1992, Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment in Indonesia. During his years of imprisonment, Xanana Gusmão worked tirelessly to gain international support for the liberation of Timor-Leste.

1999, the population voted in a UN-sponsored referendum to break away from Indonesia. In the days following the referendum pro-Indonesian militias and Indonesian soldiers retaliated by slaughtering civilians and forcing a third of the population (300,000 Timorese) out of the province and into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed before Indonesia agreed to allow UN forces into Timor.

The United Nations administered a transition period of three years, until 20 May 2002 when Timor-Leste became formally independent and Xanana Gusmão was sworn in as President.