2. b. Portuguese contact and historical experience[1]:

Island becomes divided into western and eastern parts during the colonial period of history. The Timorese people were caught in the tug-of-war of political-economic struggle between the Dutch and the Portuguese—a struggle that precedes the colonial presence of either power on Timor. While Portuguese interests in Timor were mainly the sandalwood trade by the early 16th century, their presence in on the island was mainly through early Catholic missionaries (Gunn 2001; Felgas 1956; Matos 1974; Morais 1934; Vasconcelos 1937).  By 1515 a few Dominican priests introduced Roman Catholicism. However, the 1556 arrival of the Dominican friar, António Taveira, marked officially the commencement of a more widespread missionising effort. The Church’s effort concentrated on the north and south coastal chiefdoms during the late 16th century. It should be emphasized, however, that these are only a handful of priests setting up isolated Catholic missions and it takes them almost 100 years (by 1640) to set up 10 missions and 22 churches on Timor. Therefore, initially it is not a Portuguese colonial administration or trading posts or military garrisons that are present on Timor Island. These kinds of Portuguese penetration happen gradually and in reaction to Dutch and Portuguese relations in the neighbouring islands and then in west Timor. Thus it is not appropriate to talk about Portuguese colonialism starting in the 16th century. Therefore, it may be useful to briefly overview the process by which the Portuguese gain and enhance their foothold on Timor island and when and if one may talk about colonialism (Fox 2000).

By 1566 the Portuguese had a base in a fortress built by Dominican friars on Solor Island North of Timor (Taylor 1994:3-5, Fox 2000:9-12, McWilliam 2002:50-55).[2] From this base they started their annual trips of sandalwood collection to Timor. After the Dutch captured the fort in 1613, the Portuguese relocated their base to Larantuka in the eastern part of Flores Island. There the Portuguese remained in form control and consolidated their rule through a group “which was to dominate Timor’s development in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (Taylor 1994:3). The Dutch called this group the Topasses who were descendants of Portuguese soldiers, sailors, and traders who intermarried with native women on Solor Island. From Larantuka this group controlled trade networks between Solor, Timor, and Larantuka, including the profitable sandalwood trade (ibid.). Their power was aided by the Dominican friars. Through the process of trade the Topasses commenced settling Timor Island gradually with a respectable presence by 1642. As pointed out earlier, up to this point there were a few scattered missions in the coastal regions of Timor. However, by the middle of the 17th century the Portuguese penetrated the island in strength. At first they took control of the coastal regions and gradually extended their influence into the interior (Taylor 1994:4). The justification for the 1642 forceful invasion of Timor was to protect the newly Christianized chieftains of the coastal regions. However their quick and brutal victory was also highly strategic. Thus the advance Christianization also prepared the Timorese for the arrival of the Portuguese and hence encountering limited resistance from the indigenes. The Portuguese quickly invaded the kingdom of Wehali, as they considered it the religious and political center of the entire island. After this victory the flow of Topasses to Timor was continuous and increased. The center of Topasse community was in Lifau (currently Oecussi district).[3] From this base the Portuguese attempted to put down any opposition to their authority that would threaten their trade—whether from local rulers and chieftains or from the Dutch. 

 In 1653 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese military post in Kupang (West Timor) and with a heavy military force took over in 1656, however, their sphere of influence on Timor remained restricted to the Kupang region.[4] Portuguese (Topasse) controlled the sandalwood trade through their local allies who resisted the Dutch. The Topasses were engaged in a triangle of conflict during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Portuguese merchants with the sanction of the Portuguese crown tried to take over the control of the sandalwood trade. The Dominican friars also tried to build their own independent power base on Timor. The Timorese kingdoms periodically rebelled against both Topasse and Portuguese merchants. However, all united in opposition to the spread of Dutch influence (Taylor 1994:4). The Portuguese crown’s attempts to gain complete control over Timor through their colonial government outpost in Goa were thwarted numerous times during the late 17th century  and continued to fare the same during the 18th century. As Fox (2000:11) explains:


In 1701, Antonio Coelho Guerreiro was sent to be governor. He made Lifao the official Portuguese settlement in 1702 and managed to maintain his position for more than two years until he was also expelled …..In 1722, Antonio de Albuquerque Coelho was appointed but was besieged for long periods of time while the Topasses continued to control the trade in sandalwood from the interior of Timor.


The Topasses tried three more times to drive the Dutch out of Timor. The Portuguese and the Dutch often cooperated in trying to bring the descendants of Portuguese and natives (Topasses, or also referred to as black Portuguese) under control. On August 11 1769 the Portuguese governor, Antonio José Telles de Menezes was forced out of Lifao (current Oecussi) by the Topasses (ibid.). This precipitated the establishment of a new Portuguese settlement in Dili (the current capital of Timor Leste).

Neither Portuguese nor Dutch colonial influence could be firmly established on Timor until the 19th century and only with continuous and heavy military force. Once penetrating the interior of the island, the Portuguese mainly governed indirectly through the local rulers or kings called the liurai. The East Timorese were not too complacent with Portuguese presence and military heavy-handedness. A number of revolts have been recorded. The Atsabe rulers (in current Ermera district) tended to be rebellious against the Portuguese and the Portuguese presence also contributed to the local dynamics of indigenous leadership struggle. Between 1847-1913 the Portuguese had to mount more than 60 armed expeditions in order to subdue the Timorese in the interior of the island (Pélissier 1996). Interestingly a number of these revolts occurred in the western part of East Timor. We will return to this point shortly below.

 This tug-of-war over the control of sandalwood trade between the two European powers led to the gradual partitioning of the island into two spheres of influence. However, according to Fox (2000:12) the two powers had a different conception to how the island was divided between them. In the middle of the 18th century the Portuguese viewed Timor as consisting of two halves. The western half (much smaller than the eastern half) consisting of 16 local kingdoms in the province of Servião which was controlled by the Topasses. The eastern half formed the province of Bellum and was comprised of 46 kingdoms. The Portuguese were occupying Dili in the eastern half. The Dutch on the other hand, claimed large parts of Portuguese Timor, based on a dubious political document called the Contract of Paravicini, which was claimed to have been signed the king of Wehali in 1756 on behalf of all rulers of Timor (ibid).

In 1846 the Dutch initiated a dialogue with the Portuguese to acquire Portuguese territories, but in 1851 the Portuguese declined their offer. In 1851 the Portuguese governor in Dili, Lima de Lopes, came to an agreement with the Dutch on the demarcation of colonial boundaries in Timor without authorization from Lisbon (Portugal), with the western half ceded to the Dutch. Another aspect the treaty was the selling of eastern Flores and subsidiary islands to the Dutch. Needless to say the governor was terminated in disgrace by Portugal when Lisbon learned of his actions (ibid). But the agreement could not be changed and thus the treaty of boundary demarcation was negotiated in 1854 and ratified in1859. The various traditional kingdoms of Timor Island were listed under Dutch or Portuguese authority. This treaty had several problems. As Fox (2000:16) points out,


It [the treaty] left two landlocked enclaves…in each other’s territory. How was authority to be exercised if access was limited? More uncertain still was the fact that demarcation was based on a division of native states whose mutual boundaries were not determined. The size of the different enclaves and exact boundary between East and West Timor came to rest on a variety of local traditional claims to territory.


It took three more conventions (1893, 1904, 1913) between the Dutch and the Portuguese governments to finesse these boundary issues. The final ratification of the boundary demarcation treaty did not occur until 17 August 1916 in The Hague.

The aforementioned haggling over the boundaries between the Dutch and Portuguese and the differences of opinion as to which native populations belonged to the Western and Eastern part of Timor had significant effect on the current delimitation of Indonesian Timor and East Timor. As per the final treaty of 1916, during the 20th century the Dutch controlled part of Timor was to become part of the Republic of Indonesia, while the Portuguese controlled part of Timor became the current Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. Boundaries put down by foreign states affected the lives of the Timorese people in many ways as it will be discussed further below. It should also be noted that the border cuts certain populations in half, populations that were part of, or closely allied with the Wehali kingdom (in the Portuguese province of Bellos). Thus, we find Northern Tetun, Bunaq and Kemak populations on each side of the border. Thus far I have only discussed the history as written and conceptualized by western (either Dutch or Portuguese) historical sources. The division of Timor is viewed somewhat differently by the Timorese themselves. It would only be fair to give a short excerpt from oral representations of Timorese. The following derive from oral histories recounted to me by Kemak traditional leaders in the Atsabe subdistrict of Ermera district in 2002 (Molnar 2002).


1.      “The Flores people are related to the East Timorese, especially to the Kemak. The Flores people still have a named house called Uma Beu Ubu. A long time ago there were 3 liurai in East Timor. But because of a disagreement they split up. One went to the West, Loro Kik, under whose authority West Timor and Flores belonged. One stayed in the middle, Loro Bot, the liurai (koronel bote) of Atsabe whose authority extended over central and western parts of East Timor [story teller inserts and further elaborates that the Atsabe is the center and the place of origin for the dispersal of all Timorese and Flores people]. Another one went to the East, Loro Sa’e, and his authority extended over Lospalos and territories east of it. But the gold items of wealth [heirlooms and symbols of status and authority] were only retained by Loro Kik and Loro Bot.”

2.      “All Timorese are descendant of 3 ancestors; the many different ethnic groups are the result of complex intermarriages between local groups and descendants of Portuguese and Dutch colonials. Wehale kingdom with its ritual center at Laran was influential in propagating the marriage alliances, especially in the central regions of Timor Island (eastern West Timor and western East Timor), since eastern West Timor has its own alliances with West Timor and Oecussi and western East Timor has alliances with groups in eastern East Timor. So the whole island is one.”

3.      “Timor Island was divided among 3 descendants of one founding ancestor. The division was between the west, middle and east. And also there was a partition of North, middle, and south. The west belonged to the Wehali kingdom. The middle to the ancestor of the Atsabe people and the east to the ancestor of the Los Palos people. But then the Portuguese and Dutch came and each wanted sandalwood so they divided the island into two. But in reality Timor is ONE.


Therefore, the East Timorese representation of their history suggests a pan-Timor identity, emphasizing a unity of Timorese, based on shared ancestral founders. The divisions of authority they also view in terms of local kings and rulers and with particular affinity to Wehali, which is now in West Timor, Indonesia.

After this brief digression concerning some native views on spheres of authority in Timor, let’s return to the history of Portuguese influence on East Timor. As pointed out earlier, the colonial power initially had very little power indeed. The Portuguese did not have direct rule over the local populations but tended to rule through local kings and chiefs, and indeed these indigenous elite would not be shy about rebelling against their colonial allies when it suited their political ends. As mentioned before, the 19th century heralded numerous indigenous uprisings against the Portuguese. During the late 19th century the Portuguese attempt to establish effective control over their colony in terms of political control. The Portuguese recognized that political authority was at the time still very much in native control and a function of indigenous political, economic and ritual alliances among local kingdoms and chiefdoms. Such alliances were propagated through kin relations. “There has not yet been a single rebellion against the Portuguese flag which is not based in the alliances which result from marital exchange” Foreman (1978). The Portuguese viewed this state of affairs as a major road block to control the East Timorese.  Between the late 19th century and early 20th centuries the Portuguese devised and implemented new policies that were supposed to break the monopoly of the local traditional political system. There were two major components to this strategy. One was of an economic nature and the other of an administrative nature. On the economic front they introduced policies of forced East Timorese labor for road construction and the introduction of cash crop plantations (such as coffee plantations in Ermera in 1899 and copra between 1911 and 1917). In 1908 they also levied a head tax on all East Timorese males between the ages of 18-60 (Taylor 1994:11). The other component of the strategy was the abolition of local kingdoms and the position of the liurai (king, chief). The new Portuguese administrative units were based on the units below the kingdom level in the indigenous political structure, the suco. The election (or more often confirmation) of leaders of the suco was subject to the approval of the Portuguese. There were also two more levels of administration created. A group of sucos comprised a posto and these posto were grouped into the concelho. The concelho controlled the postos through Portuguese administration (ibid). Through this re-organization the Portuguese aimed to break down the traditional authority and introduce authority that was not dependent of kinship alliances.

These Portuguese policies had varied impact in consolidating control over the East Timorese. The cash crop initiative had very minor impact socially. The forced labor however was one source of continuous rebellion against the Portuguese. One of the great rebellions that East Timorese mentioned even today was that which united several kingdoms and was organized by Bonaventura, the king of Manufahi. This rebellion lasted 16 years and was finally defeated in 1912 with the Portuguese being forced to bring in troops from Mozambique (Angola in local accounts). East Timorese accounts estimate that over 3000 were killed and many more thousands captured and jailed.  The political and administrative restructuring also did not change local ideology and practice. The heads of the suco still needed the local support and acknowledgment of the liurai (king, chief) kin group. Traditional hierarchies of power and authority continued sanctioned by local cultural worldview and practices.  A two-tiered system was created—colonial administrative and indigenous.

In the early 20th century the Portuguese also began to incorporate some East Timorese into the clerical administrative system. Portugal centralized political control of its colonies in 1930. According to The Colonial Act of 1930, all colonies were brought under the direct control of Lisbon. “Legislative councils were set up representing local colonial elite interests: the administration, the church, Portuguese plantation owners and the army” (Taylor 1994:12-3). During this period, under Antonio Salazar, the Portuguese also officially classified people in East Timor into two categories: indigenes and nao indigenes. The latter category included mesticos and assimilated natives. Portuguese citizenship was open to this latter group and they had the right to participate in elections voting for Portuguese National Assembly and local legislative councils (ibid). This latter group of people was in administration and business or simply spoke Portuguese and had sufficient income—they comprised the local political elite. The Catholic Church was incorporated in to the local Portuguese administration and charged with the education system after 1941. The Catholic Church was instrumental in imparting Catholic and Portuguese cultural values.

These developments on East Timor during the early 20th century were gravely disrupted with the Japanese invasion and occupation of World War II – the Pacific Wars. According to Taylor (1994:13) this invasion was precipitated not by the action of the East Timorese, or the Portuguese colonial government but two other European forces. In defiance of the Portuguese governor in Dili, 400 Dutch and Australian troops landed in East Timor in a pre-emptive attempt. Timor was considered as a buffer to Australia and must be prevented from being taken over by the Japanese. The Japanese viewed these actions as a clear indication that the Allied forces were to use Timor as a military base in the war. So the Japanese sent in 20,000 strong army to East Timor. By the end of the occupation some 60,000 East Timorese lost their lives either due to bombings by both sides or due to East Timorese support of Australian troops. There are still many stories one hears about this period today. People will volunteer their life history of this period and recount how a particular household, or village, or entire indigenous political alliance networks have aided, fed, housed, hid, and fought along Australian troops. They also readily recount stories of executions by the Japanese of Australian supporters. The brutalities of forced labor and systematic rape of women and beatings are still fresh in the minds of East Timorese.

After the end of World War II the Portuguese re-establish their control over East Timor, while most other nations were undergoing decolonization processes. East Timor’s neighbor gained its independence from the Dutch in 1949. In Portuguese Timor, on the other hand, there was no talk of decolonization and with the Allied Forces complacence, Portuguese control continued. During the post war period forced labor was increased as the infrastructure destroyed during the war had to be rebuilt. Each suco had to provide laborers for a month and the heads of sucos had extended powers to round up enough able bodied workers (ibid: 14). This forced labor indeed fermented a lot of resentment and a revolt occurred in Viqueque in 1959. This rebellion however was also influenced by external factors. It has been suggested that it was organized by Indonesian agents who wished speed Portuguese departure from the region and to integrate East Timor into Indonesia (Joliffe 2001, Taylor 1994). The Portuguese put down this revolt with brutality that killed around 1000 people and exiled a number of leaders to prisons in Angola and Mozambique. Joliffe (2001:45) reports on the account of Martinho da Costa Lopes, a priest who was a deputy in the Portuguese government and later became the first East Timorese bishop. He described how many of the people were killed were murdered in a public execution. In 1963 there were reports of the existence of a Bureau of Liberation of Timor Republic which while centered in Jakarta, Indonesia, claimed to have set up a government in Batugade in East Timor with twelve ministers—a government in waiting for decolonization. By late 1969 the Indonesian military viewed the prospects of a free East Timor as a security threat and they preferred to incorporate the island into the Indonesian republic if the rule of the Portuguese became unstable. Annexation became an important issue in the intelligence service of Indonesia, Australia, and the USA by the early 1970s (Taylor 1994:23).

However, East Timor remained a Portuguese colony until 1975, by which time the Portuguese have much neglected this particular colony and were letting go of their other colonies. During the 20th century despite of Portuguese attempts to take control of the East Timorese political system, East Timorese society was resilient. Taylor (1994:15) aptly observes,


All the basic elements ensuring the reproduction of indigenous society were still firmly in place—kinship systems, ideologies legitimizing traditional rule, a self-regulating political system a self-sustaining subsistence economy and a culture based on notions of hierarchy and exchange.


            One of the Portuguese attempts to take control of Timorese society, however, was highly successful with significant consequences. Kin of the liurai and chiefly (suco) families were incorporated into the Portuguese civil service as administrators, teachers, and military troops. Furthermore, children of the post war era, mostly from the liurai families, received their education from the Jesuit Catholic School and some had the opportunity for University education in Lisbon, Portugal. These scions of local ruling families were to become the leaders with solid values that emphasized education, nationalism, and also equality. They met in secret to discuss their ideas on education to agriculture to traditional marriage. The Catholic newspapers, such as SEARA, were also an outlet for their ideas. Politically there were rather inexperienced however. Taylor (1994:26) points out how naively these ambitious young men approached the Indonesian government in 1973 to help in their struggle against the Portuguese. These East Timorese were to become the founders of the first political parties as the possibility of independence emerged with the military coup in Portugal in April 1974. The Armed Forces Movement that came to power following the coup restored democracy and promised the decolonization of all Portuguese overseas territory.

The three political parties formed around three choices facing East Timor with decolonization: 1. integration with Indonesia (APODETI); 2. independence (ASDT); 3. federation with Portugal (UDT). It is important to look at these early parties and take a note of their founders since when one looks at the current political structure of the 21st century’s youngest nation, we shall meet these parties and individuals again, albeit not as naïve as they might have been in the 1970s—well-meaning and filled with enthusiasm, 27-37 years old young educated East Timorese elite (See Jolliffe 2001, Taylor 1994, Pilger 1994, McCloskey 2000). On 11 May 1974 the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) was founded. Their goal was to work towards independence while continuing to associate with Portugal in the long transition period. The founders included Mário, Manueal and João Carrascalão (brothers), Domingos de Oliveira, Fancisco Xavier Lopes da Cruz and César Augusto Mousinho. Manuel was a forestry engineer and coffee plantation owner. Domingos and Francisco were customs officials, while César was the mayor of Dili. Their program focused on democratization, human rights, self-determination, and income redistribution, and a “rejection of the integration of Timor into any potential foreign country” (Taylor 1994:26). Their main support was drawn from their own kinship network of liurai, traditional kings and chiefs of East Timor. On 20 May 1974 the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT) was founded. The leaders of this group consisted of Francisco Xavier do Amaral, José Ramos Horta, Justino Mota, Nicolau Lobato and Mari Alkatiri.[5] Several of them were sons of liurais and were in the government service (teachers and administrators). They had an ambitious program with a focus on the rural areas that focused on health, education, economic and rural development, fullest participation of East Timorese in the political structure and the reassertion of Timorese culture. They were founded on the idea of full independence. By September they changed their group’s name to the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). Given the extensiveness of their program and their thorough links and branches at the local rural levels with a hands-on-approach, they did not only draw the support of a number of prominent liurai but also from all level of village social organization. On 25 May the Timorese Popular Democratic Association (APODETI) was founded and this group heavily favored autonomous integration with Indonesia and Indonesian language education. Its founders included a number of prominent figures who since the 1960s were dealing in secret with agents from Indonesia in return for favors and payments, utilizing their position in society as traders, customs officials and powerful traditional leaders. Arnaldo dos Reis Araujo was a cattle rancher. Osario Soares was both an administrator and a school teacher. The most powerful and strongest supporter however was a liurai of the former Atsabe kingdom from Atsabe, Ermera. Dom Guilherme Gonçalves was not only the leader of the Atsabe Kemak group but had extensive marriage alliance ties with groups within the former kingdom of Atsabe and with groups allied with the former kingdom – thus his ties extended to the Northern Tetun and Bunaq ethnic groups on both sides of the border, as well as with other Kemak groups in Ainaro and Bobonaro districts, and also with southern Tetun groups on both sides of the border. He was vehemently anti-Portuguese and had access to a huge traditional army of his former kingdom. As members of his kin-group explained in 2002, he came from a line of kings that constantly rebelled against the Portuguese;[6] however, given the kinship ties and land holdings transmitted through such ties, Guilherme[7] had both land and marriage allies on both sides of the border. Various agnates and affines, thus justify Guilherme’s integrationist stance as simply “not wanting to separate the families any longer by the border drawn on a map by the Portuguese he hated so much and the Dutch colonial masters…he wanted a unified Timor and not to be cut off from the spiritual center in Wehali….”

Three other small parties also arose but these had little consequence with no programs and they tried to form coalitions with the major parties above. These were: KOTA-“Sons of the Mountain Warriors” who wanted to return to a traditional form of political organization that focused on the liurais, but with an elitist bend, to only those liurais that could trace their descent from the Topasses (mixed indigene and Portuguese ancestry); the 8 family member Labor Party, PARTIDO TRABALHISTA; ADLITA-Democratic Association for the Integration of East Timor with Australia. This latter party simply collected money form people for this unrealistic dream (Taylor 1994).

In November 1974 the new government in Lisbon Portugal sent Lemos Pires to take up his post in Dili. He was a well meaning administrator who without much support from Lisbon wanted to implement a decolonization program in East Timor. As part of this program, the political parties were legalized and other reforms were also implemented. By early 1975 FRETILIN had major support throughout East Timor. In March 1975, as part of the decolonization program, elections were held in Lautem district for local administrative leadership to replace the traditional village heads run system. This was not an election for parties or party candidates and was a pilot project in conducting local elections. People voted with pebbles placed in a basket representing candidates (Taylor 1994, Jolliffe 2001). Candidates who had FRETILIN associations came out as winner. Pires encouraged the three main parties to form a coalition. While APODETI refused to attend such meetings, FRETILIN and UDT entertained the idea, particularly since FRETILIN has offered this before but UDT refused. In mid-January 1975 the coalition was born and in mid-March proposal for full independence and a transitional government was agreed to by UDT, FRETILIN and the Portuguese government. Taylor (1994:39) sums up the main points of this proposal: it called for a government with equal representation from UDT, FRETILIN and the Portuguese government; it called for a transitional government for three years; after three years general elections to be held for a Constituent Assembly. Other points called for the rejection of integration and various social programs policies that were mainly in FRETILIN programs to which UDT agreed to. In rural areas the coalition had a lot of support and it appeared that the road to independence was beginning to be laid.

However, we must remember that Indonesia had sites on annexing East Timor and found acquiescence from both Australia and the United States and to some degree from Lisbon. By the middle of 1974 the Indonesian military intelligence, BAKIN, has finalized plans in Operation Komodo.  Komodo operatives were working with East Timorese favoring pro-integration (APODETI) and have also instilled fears in certain members of the UDT by mid-March 1975 over some ‘communist’ elements in the FRETILIN party. Given that several leaders of UDT were not so pleased with the coalition with FRETILIN in the first place, this provided them the excuse to leave the coalition. The ‘communist threat’ must also be viewed from the Cold War ideology present at the time, not to mention the Vietnam War on mainland Southeast Asia. Thus, the earlier mentioned silent agreement by western countries needs to be placed in this context.[8] In a somewhat over generalized view of more complex and dynamic global political processes, East Timor nothing more than a cog in the global strategy of the United States and in the regional political strategy of Indonesia and Australia.

On May 27 1975 UDT withdrew from the coalition. On August 10 UDT undertook a coup and as FRETILIN rapidly responded a civil war ensued. At the end of the bloody war by 27 August, FRETILIN took total control of Dili and what remained of the Portuguese government was overthrown. East Timorese who were troops in the Portuguese army supported FRETILIN and they were instrumental in the foundation of the Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor (FALINTIL) (McCloskey 2000:3). The UDT troops crossed into Indonesian Timor as they were fleeing FRETILIN troops. There they were forced to sign a prepared petition written by the KOMODO operatives, which called for integration with Indonesia. This was presented as a call for help from the East Timorese people, even though there were only 2500 refugees and 500 soldiers involved (Taylor 1994:51).

FRETILIN quickly restored order and unity as well as garnered widespread popular support of the people, including some former UDT supporters (Dunn 1976). However, on 8 October the Indonesian army attacked and captured the border town of Batugade from FALINTIL troops and established their headquarters for the next part of the KOMODO Operation (Jolliffe 2001). They accomplished this in a clandestine manner, pretending to be UDT troops still continuing the civil war. By 16 October 1975 the two border districts of Bobonaro and Cova Lima have been captured by the Indonesians. The fatalities also included two British and three Australian journalists in Balibo (McCloskey 2000:4, Jolliffe 2001). As the steady advance continued, FRETILIN made a plea to the United Nations Security Council for the withdrawal of Indonesian troops (Taylor 1994:63). FRETILIN hoped that as an independent nation its pleas might have a better chance of response. On 28 November 1975 FRETILIN made its independence declaration as the Democratic Republic of East Timor.  The nation received recognition of its status from 12 nation-states, not including Portugal or the other Indonesian annexation acquiescent nations of Australia and the United States (McCloskey2000:3). Indonesian military response to the declaration of independence was quick. The full scale invasion of East Timor began on 7 December 1975 (Soares 2000:59). Six months later, in 1976 Indonesia incorporated East Timor as their 27th province. Indonesian sovereignty was not recognized by the East Timorese or by the United Nations. FRETILIN troops withdrew into the mountains and commenced a 24 year long guerilla war against the invaders.[9]


[1] See for example: McWilliam 2002, Fox 2000, Matos 1974,  Felgas 1956,  Castro 1943, Gunn 2001, Duarte 1944, Leitao 1948 and 1952, Martinho 1943, 1945, and 1947, Metelo 1922, Schlicher 1996, Sherlock 1983, Therik 1995, Vasconcelos 1937, Pereira 1940, Oliviera 1949, 1950, 1952, Morais 1934, 1954, Webb 1980, Kohar 1998, Hiorth 1985, Tanter and Selden and Shalom 2001 among others.

[2] See also Therik 1995.

[3] The reader might have wondered earlier how the new nation of East Timor can have a district located in Indonesian Timor as an enclave—Oecussi. This region of Timor was one of the original settlements and administrative concentrations of the Portuguese.

[4] The Dutch were not only interested in sandalwood but wanted to expand their slave trade.

[5] http://www.etan.org/et2002c/july/21-27/21arab.htm is a web article which provides background on the unusual origins of Marí bim Amude Alkatiri, a descendant of Yemen Arab Muslims who migrated to East Timor at the end of the 19th century from Hadhramut. He is the prime minister of the Catholic majority population in the new Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.

[6]  Pélissier (1996) and Felgas (1956) do make references to the Atsabe kings involvement in rebellion. I have also collected a number of oral histories from a number of different groups in the former Atsabe kingdom during 2002. Brief summery of this can be found in ‘Died in the service of Portugal’: legitimacy of authority and dynamics of group identity among the Atsabe Kemak in East Timor, to appear in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. Singapore. 2005.

[7] His brother Tomás was not only foreign trained economist but also the husband of Nicolau Lobato’s sister-in-law (wive’s sister). Nicalue Lobato is one of the founders of FRETILIN. In this case traditional marriage alliances did not translate to Party allegiances since Tomás was APODETI through and through. (see also Jolliffe 2001:230).

[8] Taylor (1994:37) also points out some of the negotiations for off shore oil during this time by Indonesia, Australia, and even American Oil companies with the Portuguese.

[9] Guerilla war fare tactics were not the norm however until Nicolau Lobato died in 1979 and the FALINTIL leadership was taken up by Xanana Gusmão who earnestly started the campaign to regain independence (Soares 2000:59).


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