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Focus on Timor-Leste

November 2007

Timor-Leste—at a Glance

When the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste achieved independence on May 20, 2002, it became the first new sovereign state of the twenty-first century and of the third millennium.

photoStill trying to recover from decades of conflict.

Independence followed centuries of colonial rule and decades of civil conflict.

The 14,609 square kilometer territory which comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco and an enclave on the northwestern side of the island known as Occussi-Ambeno, was colonised in 1702 by Portugal.

On November 28, 1975, East Timor unilaterally declared its independence as a new government in Portugal abandoned the remnants of its worldwide empire.

Nine days later, Indonesian forces invaded before the independence declaration could be internationally recognized and declared that country's 27th province the following year.

Civil conflict followed in a region which was virtually isolated from the outside world between Indonesia forces and Falintil guerrillas. The civilian death toll during the largely hidden war was anywhere between 60,000 and 200,000.

Following a United Nations sponsored agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United States, a national referendum was held on August 30, 1999, when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for full independence.

Violent clashes erupted and the first of several United Nations missions was established to lead the country to independence.

With a per capita GNI of around $750, Timor-Leste's 947,000 population is among the poorest in the world.

They speak two official languages, Tetum and Portuguese, though Indonesian and, increasingly, English is also widespread.

The country has a promising petroleum industry and a potentially lucrative coffee industry.

Ninety percent of the population are Roman Catholic, one of three (along with the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) in Asia.

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