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The first inhabitants, who were of Veddo-Australoid and Melanesian origins, arrived in Timor-Leste (East Timor) some 42,000 years ago.
The first recorded Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese in the 16th century, who traded with the locals. By the middle of the century, the locals were colonized. However, it was only upon the arrival of the Dominican friars in 1556 that conversion to Catholicism occurred in the region.
For the next decades, Timor-Leste (East Timor) remained a colony but development was very slow, with very little infrastructure built on the island. On November 28, 1975, Timor-Leste was granted full independence.
Nine days later, Indonesian troops invaded Timor-Leste, making it an extension of Indonesia. For the next two decades, major investments were made to develop the country but it also came with an unprecedented wave of violence. A total of 102,800 conflict-related deaths were recorded.
The atrocities done by the Indonesian troops against pro-democracy activists first came into international consciousness when the 1991 Dili Massacre took place. About 200 unarmed and peaceful protesters were murdered at the Santa Cruz Cemetery located in the capital city of Dili. Western journalists, who recorded footage of the massacre, smuggled the tapes to Australia and were shown to the world.
The event prompted the US to withdraw their support from the Indonesian military and growing pressure from the international community resulted to the support for an independent Timor-Leste. On August 30, 1999, a UN-sponsored referendum resulted to a 78% vote for independence, prompting Indonesian-trained anti-independence militia to wreak havoc in the country. About 1,400 people were killed, and over 300,000 people were forced to flee to West Timor as refugees.
On September 20, 1999, the International Force for Timor-Leste, which comprised over 9,000 soldiers from many countries, mostly Australia, was deployed to Timor-Leste. The International Force eventually ended the violence.
After the UN-administered transition period, Timor-Leste was recognized internationally as an independent sovereign state on May 20, 2002. It became the first sovereign state of the 21st century.
Timor-Leste is located in Maritime Southeast Asia, at the eastern tip of the Indonesian archipelago. They are the largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands, with the Timor Sea to its south and Darwin, Australia about 600 km away.
The main island is mostly mountainous with Tatamailau the highest peak at 9,721 feet above sea level. Climate is tropical with distinct rainy and dry seasons.
Timor-Leste has a parliamentary government, with the President as Head of State and the Prime Minister as Head of Government. The President is elected through popular vote and serves a five-year term. It is the President's responsibility to appoint the Prime Minister.
The National Parliament, also elected by popular vote for a five-year term, accommodates about 65 members.
Timor-Leste's constitution has been framed after Portugal but the government is still undergoing further developments in its administrative and government institutions.
Tourists are rare in Timor-Leste, with visitors mainly visiting the state for its serene beaches and protected bird sanctuaries.
Dili is the most popular city to visit. The capital was destroyed several times during the wars that took place but many Portuguese buildings still remain. Among the most popular sites in the capital are the Cristo Rei - erected during the Indonesian occupation in 1996 and the President's Palace on the northern coast of the city.
Atauro Island is a small island off the mainland, with a population of 8,000, comprising mainly farmers and fishers. The island has a few resorts offering opportunity for scuba diving in the Coral Triangle, said to have the greatest coral reef biodiversity in the world.
Adult literacy rate in Timor-Leste is at 58.3%. There are four colleges in the country with the National University of Timor-Leste being the main university.
Timor-Leste is one of only two Christian nations in Southeast Asia.Their currency is the US dollar.Timor-Leste is one of the poorest nations in the world with 37.4% of the population living below. the international poverty line.Elections were held in the state for the very first time in 2001.
Last Updated : May 20, 2015