East Timor: Internal Strife, Political Turmoil, and Reconstruction
East Timor: Internal Strife,
Political Turmoil, and Reconstruction
April 26, 2007
Rhoda Margesson and Bruce Vaughn
Specialists in Foreign Policy and Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
East Timor: Internal Strife,
Political Turmoil, and Reconstruction
The situation in East Timor has changed dramatically over the past year. Prior
to 2006 the international community’s main concern focused on possible tensions in
East Timor’s relations with Indonesia. Now the main threat to East Timor is internal
strife resulting from weak, or collapsed, state institutions, rivalries among elites, a
poor economy, unemployment, and east-west tensions within the country. The
reintroduction of peacekeeping troops and a United Nations mission, the flow of
revenue from hydrocarbon resources in the Timor Sea, and upcoming elections may
help East Timor move towards more effective and democratic government. East
Timor could potentially gain significant wealth from energy resources beneath the
With the help of a transitional United Nations administration, East Timor
emerged in 2002 as an independent state after a long history of Portugese colonialism
and, more recently, Indonesian rule. This followed a U.N.-organized 1999
referendum in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence and
after which Indonesian-backed pro-integrationist militias went on a rampage. Under
several different mandates, the United Nations has provided peacekeeping,
humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and capacity building to establish a
functioning government. Many challenges remain, including the need for economic
development and sustained support by the international community. Congressional
concerns focus on security and the role of the United Nations, human rights, and East
Timor’s boundary disputes with Australia and Indonesia.
East Timor held the first round of presidential elections in April 2007. A run-off
election between front runners Jose Ramos-Horta (a Nobel laureate) and Francisco
Guterres is to be held on May 9, 2007. Prime ministerial elections are to follow.
Xanana Gusmao is expected to step down as president and run against former Prime
Minister Alkatiri in the hope of becoming prime minister.
Experts say a key challenge for East Timor will be to create enough political
stability to focus on building state capacity with resources from the Timor Sea and
prevent them from being squandered by corrupt practices.
Structure of Parliament.........................................2
Internal Strife and Political Turmoil...............................2
U.S. Humanitarian Response.................................8
U.N. Peace Operations Since 1999....................................8
U.N. Missions 1999-2005.......................................8
United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL).....................9
United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)...........10
Reconstruction, Poverty Reduction, and Development....................11
Challenges and Potential Issues for Congress...........................13
The Debate Over Timing the Withdrawal of a U.N. Presence...........13
U.S. Assistance to East Timor...................................14
Other Potential Issues for Congress...............................14
List of Tables
U.S. Assistance to East Timor, FY2006/2008...........................14
East Timor: Internal Strife,
Political Turmoil, and Reconstruction
On May 20, 2002, the Democratic Republic of East Timor (Timor-Leste) gained
its independence, and on September 27, it became the 191st member of the United
Nations. With the help of the United Nations transitional administration, East
Timor’s independence marked the end of three centuries of Portuguese rule and 24
years of Indonesian control.1
In the 1640s, the Portuguese
East Timor in Briefbegan to assert control over East
Area: 14,609 sq km (slightly larger thanTimor. This colonial presencewould last until 1975 when the
Co nne c t i c ut )
Capital: DiliRevolutionary Front for an
Population: Between 800,000 and 1 millionIndependent East Timor
Population growth rate: 2.08%(FRETLIN) gained ascendancy
Religion: 98% Catholic, 1% Muslim, 1% Protestantover the Timorese Union Party,
Language: Tetum and Portuguese are the officialpushed them out of East Timor in a
languages. Indonesian, English, and other
indigenous languages are also spokenbrief civil war, and declared
Literacy: 58.6% independence on November 28,
GDP growth rate: 1.8% 1975. Indonesia invaded East Timor
GDP per Capita: $800 purchasing power parity on December 7, 1975, and began a
Unemployment: Over 20%
Poverty: 42% are below the poverty line.period of occupation during which
Exports: Coffee, sandalwood, and marble, withan estimated 100,000 to 250,000
potential for oil, gas and vanilla exportsEast Timorese died.2 Indonesia’s
Life expectancy at birth: 66 years annexation of East Timor as its 27th
Infant mortality rate: 46 per 1,000 birthprovince was not recognized by the
Fertility rate: 3.53 children per woman
Sources: CIA World Factbook ; U.S. Department ofUnited Nations.
State; Australian Government, Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade; World Bank, WorldUnder the supervision of the
Development Indicators United Nations, a national
referendum to decide on either
autonomy within Indonesia or on
independence from it was held, under U.N. supervision, in East Timor on August 30,
1999. Seventy-eight percent of the 98.6% of registered voters who voted opted for
independence. This led to widespread retaliation and destruction by pro-integrationist
1 Slobodan Lekic, “East Timor’s Historic Vote Hailed as a Success,” Associated Press,
August 31, 2001.
2 “Background Notes: East Timor,” U.S. Department of State, September 2006.
militias backed by elements of the Indonesian military who were in favor of
integration with Indonesia. More than 1,300 East Timorese were killed, and the
displaced included more than 260,000 in West Timor and 200,000 in East Timor.
Seventy percent of East Timor’s economic infrastructure (such as housing stock,
public buildings, and utilities), eighty percent of the schools, and virtually all medical
facilities were destroyed by the militias. To quell the violence and restore order, a
U.N.-authorized peacekeeping mission International Force East Timor (INTERFET)
was established (under Australian command) and deployed on September 20, 1999.
Australia has continued to play a leading role both in U.N. operations and on a
bilateral basis with East Timor since 1999.
Structure of Parliament
East Timor’s parliament of 88 members is an extension of a Constituent
Assembly that was elected in August 2001 and drafted a constitution for East Timor
that went into effect in 2002. East Timor at that time was under the administration
of the United Nations, which had taken control in late 1999 after Indonesia withdrew
from the territory. East Timor formally became independent on May 20, 2002. The
new constitution provided for an elected parliament of 52 to 65 members, but the
Constituent Assembly declared itself the first national parliament of the new state.
It is dominated by Fretlin, the party that led the resistance to Indonesian rule. The
constitution also provided for parliamentary government with a largely symbolic,
popularly elected President.
The next parliamentary election will be in 2007. The parliament has severe
deficiencies. Most members fought with the Fretlin resistance to Indonesian rule and
entered parliament with no legislative experience. Few members have college or
even high school education. The business of parliament is hampered by the practice
of Members using both legal languages, Tetum and Portuguese. Most legislation
originates with the executive branch, and parliament rarely amends it. However, the
parliament did originate an important bill to compensate veterans of the anti-
Indonesian resistance. Committees reportedly do attempt to exercise oversight over
the executive branch, but the committees have few staff. Members have no personal
staff and few computers.
Internal Strife and Political Turmoil
Events over the past year have led to the deterioration of East Timor’s internal
security situation and the reintroduction of foreign peacekeepers, from Australia,
New Zealand, Portugal, and Malaysia. (See Chronology, below.) The Australian
military contingent is the largest with some 1,100 troops in country. The
peacekeepers have been deployed at the invitation of the East Timorese government.3
3 Australian Department of Defence, “About Operation Astute,”
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1704 of August 25, 2006, established the United
Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) that consists of a civilian
component as well as up to 1,608 police personnel and up to 34 military liaison and
staff officers. UNMIT’s mission includes supporting the East Timorese government
in “consolidating stability, enhancing a culture of democratic governance, and
facilitating political dialogue among Timorese stakeholders in their efforts to bring
about a process of national reconciliation.”4
The source of the present strife can be traced to divisions within the dominant Fretlin
party dating to their period of struggle against the Indonesians. Some Fretlin elites went
into exile while others, including President Xanana Gusmao, stayed behind to fight in
Falintil, which he commanded. One way these divisions manifest themselves is in splits
within and between the military and police forces. The allegiance of most of the military
to Gusmao appears to have played a role in the creation of paramilitary units within the
police. Divisions between the military and the police can be traced to the recruitment
process. Many recruited into the military “were Xanana loyalists” while a U.N. decision
led to over 300 individuals who had earlier served in the Indonesian police force in East5
Timor to be hired into the new police of East Timor. In the words of the International
Crisis Group report, “personal and institutional tensions between a president committed
to pluralism and a ruling party (Fretlin) with distinctly authoritarian tendencies,
politicisation of the police, lack of any regulatory framework for the security forces more
generally and the in-bred nature of a tiny political elite with 30 years shared history6
allowed matters to get out of control.”
The event that triggered the current strife and political turmoil can be traced to
the dismissal in March 2006 by former Prime Minister Alkatiri of 591 members of
the 1,500-man military. Those dismissed had protested their conditions and pay and
claimed discrimination against members of the force from western districts of East
Timor. Most of the upper echelons of the military are drawn from the eastern
districts, or Loro Sa’e, while much of the political leadership and the police are from
the western districts, or Loro Munu.7 In July 2006, it was reported that the police had
broken into factions, with some taking their weapons to join rebels in the hills.8 The
March 2006 dismissal of the protesting troops led to rioting, looting, a number of
deaths, and the fleeing of tens of thousands of mostly eastern East Timorese from the
capital, Dili, beginning in April 2006. Alkatiri stepped down in June as a result. The
government is now headed by former foreign minister and now prime minister
4 United Nations, SC/8817, “Security Council Establishes New, Expanded UN Mission in
Timor-Leste for Initial Period of Six Months,” August 25, 2006.
5 Sven Gunnar Simonsen, “The Authoritarian Temptation in East Timor,” Asian Survey, Vol.
6 “Resolving Timor-Leste’s Crisis,” International Crisis Group, October 10, 2006. This is
an excellent source of open information on recent events in East Timor.
7 “East Timor: Government Buckles as Violence Continues,” Oxford Analytica, June 2,
8 “E Timor Prime Minister Sworn in,” BBC News, July 10, 2006.
Ramos-Horta (a Nobel Peace Prize laureate). He has since rescinded the dismissal
order. Internal dissent within the ranks of the military and police have reportedly led
to their collapse.
Former Prime Minister Alkatiri was accused by his opponents of forming “hit
squads,” which he has denied.9 A U.N. investigation found him to have failed “to use
his firm authority to denounce the transfer of security sector weapons to civilians.”10
Former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato was sentenced to seven years imprisonment
for authorizing the transfer of weapons to pro-Fretlin supporters and a Fretlin-linked
hit squad.11 Lobato reportedly had a “frosty” relationship with Gusmao and had
bought large quantities of arms for the police and had established two paramilitary
One of the leaders of the violent protests of March 2006, which resulted in the
mutiny of soldiers from western districts, is Major Alfredo Reinaldo. Reinaldo’s
support base is drawn from the west. Reinaldo and 50 of his supporters escaped from
prison in August 2006. Australian forces failed to capture Reinaldo on March 11,
2007. The operation was ordered by the East Timor government. The decision to
apprehend Reinaldo was apparently taken after he pursuaded a border patrol unit to
hand over their assault rifles on February 25, 2007. The government had previously
been in negotiations with Reinaldo for killing a soldier while fighting against East
Timorese army units. While Reinaldo has not been a major political figure in East
Timor, he has attracted much support among young men who are increasingly
resentful of the foreign military presence in East Timor.13 Reinaldo is resentful of
Fretlin for ordering the dismissal of protesting troops.14
Another dimension of the escalating violence in East Timor are the gangs of
largely unemployed youth. Unemployment and underemployment is estimated to be
as high as 70% in East Timor.15 With the collapse of law and order in the wake of
the May 2006 police and military clashes, gang violence swept through Dili leading
to further deaths, the displacement of more Dili residents from the capital, and the
widespread destruction of property.16 Many of the Dili gangs reportedly view
Reinaldo in a positive light. Fretlin has stated that it does not wish to see Reinaldo
9 “Embattled East Timor PM Resigns,” BBC News, June 26, 2006.
10 “E Timor Ex-PM Accused on Unrest,” BBC News, October 17, 2006 and “Commission
of Inquiry Issues Report on Violent Crisis that Shook Timor-Leste,” UN News, October 17,
11 “East Timor: Poll is Unlikely to Boost Stabilization,” Oxford Analytica, March 13, 2007.
12 “E Timor Nationhood Proves Rocky Path,” BBC News, May 29, 2006.
13 E.Timor President Evokes Emergency Powers,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2007.
14 Paul Toohey, “Fox on the Run,” The Bulletin, March 13, 2007.
15 “East Timor Country Profile,” Factiva, November 24, 2006.
16 U.S. Department of State, “East Timor: Background Notes,” December 2006.
A presidential runoff election is scheduled for May 9, 2007, between Francisco
Guterres, also known as Lu-Olo, who polled 28% of the vote in the first round of the
presidential election, and Ramos-Horta, who polled 22% of the vote. The two were
the leading presidential contenders in the April 9, 2007 presidential election.
Fernando “Lasama” de Araujo of the Democrat Party finished third with 19% of the
vote and has pledged his support to Ramos-Horta.17 Guterres, a former Falintil
fighter, is the Fretlin Party candidate.18
President Gusmao is expected to step down from the presidency and run under
a new party that he has formed, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction
(CNRT), in the following parliamentary elections in the hope of becoming prime
minister.19 Alkatiri will reportedly seek to defeat Gusmao and once again become
prime minister as the Fretlin candidate. The CNTR will likely seek the support of the
Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party. It is also thought that Gusmao
will garner the support of the Catholic Church, which has an overwhelming influence
in the country. That said, Fretlin has an extensive political organization that
developed its networks over the years of struggle against the Indonesians. If Ramos-
Horta and Gusmao, who are allies, are successful, they will in effect trade jobs.
Gusmao is viewed by many as one of the few who can unite the country. Fretlin is
the party that has been most closely associated with bringing independence to East
Timor and as such retains much support. Fretlin controls 55 of 88 seats in the
Constituent Assembly. There are reportedly factions within Fretlin that would
support Prime Minister Ramos-Horta in the April 9th Presidential election.
East Timor held an election on August 30, 2001, under the supervision of
UNTAET to elect a constituent assembly to draft a new Constitution and, upon
independence, to become the new parliament. More than 91% of the electorate
participated. East Timor’s Presidential election was held on April 14, 2002, when
Gusmao, an independence leader who ran as an independent candidate, won a
decisive victory. Voter turnout in this second election reached 86% of the
el ect orat e. 20
According to the United Nations, the instability and volatility of the security
situation in East Timor, particularly since April 2006, has affected the livelihoods of
much of the population. Initially, an estimated 178,000 were displaced. By February
2007, an estimated 100,000 (10% of the population) still remain displaced — 30,000
in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Dili and 70,000 with host families
17 “Presidential Hopefuls Begin Final Campaigning,” Agence France Presse, April 23, 2007.
18 Loro Horta, “Timor Leste’s Upcoming Elections An Assessment,” RSIS Commentaries,
(Singapore) March 29, 2007.
19 “East Timor’s Gusmao Says Ready to be Prime Minister,” Reuters, March 28, 2007.
20 Dwight King, “East Timor Founding Elections and Emerging Party System,” Asian
Survey, October 2003.
in the districts.21 Many of the IDPs do not have homes to return to because they were
damaged or destroyed. Sufficient access to potable water and the risk of disease due
to poor sanitation is a significant problem for IDPs in camps and elsewhere. Many
of the camps are also at risk for flooding.
Moreover, the United Nations says that more than 40% of the East Timorese
population lives below the poverty line, with a high child mortality rate resulting
from lack of sanitation, infectious diseases, and malnutrition. A recent rice shortage
throughout the country has also been a cause for concern. Deteriorating social
structures and services at the community level have greatly affected the capacity to
provide health care and education and to respond to natural disasters, such as floods
and landslides during the rainy season, which are common in East Timor. The
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) believes that IDPs will need
humanitarian assistance through 2007 and that the transition from humanitarian
programs to development activities will be delayed.22 Reports indicate that once
IDPs return, they will still need food and shelter assistance.
In February and March 2007, security incidents again increased, leading to
restrictions on the movement of humanitarian personnel. Some believe the
motivations behind the violent demonstrations may be shifting toward more local
gang related incidents. Concern about displacement due to civil unrest has prompted
contingency planning under the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and
the Ministry of Labour and Community Reinsertion (MTRC).23 It has also raised
concern about humanitarian access, and the protection and security of those displaced
and for non-governmental organizations and U.N. operations.
In addition to the U.N. peacekeeping operation, the international humanitarian
aid community includes the United Nations, international organizations, non-
governmental organizations, and donor governments that provide contributions and
in-kind bilateral assistance. The international community is working closely with the
East Timor Red Cross and other national and local organizations.24 Distribution of
basic essentials and implementation of projects focus on IDPs, but the needs are
significant throughout the country. In response to the renewed violence in April and
May 2006, the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) provided immediate
emergency assistance and the United Nations Office of the Coordinator of
Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA) generated a Flash Appeal. A total of nearly
$40 million was reportedly contributed in 2006. The 2007 consolidated appeal for
the period January to June 2007 is for $16 million.
21 Exact figures are not available due to the high mobility rate of the displaced population.
22 UNICEF, “UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Timor Leste Donor Update,” March 21 2007.
23 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Timor-Leste:
Weekly Situation Report,” March 14, 2007.
24 Primary U.N. agencies include the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World
Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
U.S. Humanitarian Response.25 The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance
(OFDA) within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) provides
non-food humanitarian assistance during international crises and disasters and can
respond rapidly with relief materials and personnel. It facilitates the U.S.
government emergency assistance. OFDA provides some assistance through its own
personnel, but the bulk of its activities are carried out through grants to implementing
partners, such as the U.N. agencies, international organizations, and non-
governmental organizations. USAID also administers Title II of P.L. 480, the Food
for Peace Program (FFP), which is the primary disaster aid channel for U.S. food aid.
In East Timor, the United States continues to draw on both OFDA and FFP in
its humanitarian efforts. OFDA is funding a number of implementing partners to
assist IDPs in a range of tasks including facilitating camp management, providing
health care and shelter materials, conducting protection programs, and facilitating
IDP returns and reintegration where possible. OFDA is also supporting projects to
improve water and sanitation facilities. In FY2007, as of April 20, OFDA has
provided nearly $1 million and FFP has contributed $2.2 million in food aid for a
total of approximately $3.2 million. In FY2006, OFDA contributed nearly $1 million
and FFP funded $1.2 million in food aid for a total of $2.2 million. Taken together
in FY2006 and FY2007, the U.S. has contributed $5.3 million in humanitarian
assistance for East Timor.26
U.N. Peace Operations Since 1999
U.N. Missions 1999-2005
The U.N. peace operations in East Timor since 1999 have evolved in phases.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1246 (1999) authorized the United Nations
Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), established on June 11, 1999, to organize a
national referendum in August on East Timor’s status and, depending on the
outcome, oversee the transition period. After the violent post-referendum rampage
began, and with Indonesia’s agreement, on September 12, 1999, the Security Council
on September 15 passed Resolution 1264 (1999), authorizing establishment of
INTERFET a non-U.N. multinational force. On October 19, 1999, Indonesia’s
parliament voted to confirm the results of the August referendum.
The United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET) was
established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1272 (1999) on October 25, 1999
(and led by Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UNTAET Administrator) to provide a U.N.
conducted multi-dimensional peacekeeping operation to administer East Timor
25 For more information on U.S. humanitarian assistance, see CRS Report RL33769,
International Crises and Disasters: U.S. Humanitarian Assistance, Budget Trends, and
Issues for Congress by Rhoda Margesson.
26 See USAID, “East Timor — Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #1 (FY2007),” April 20,
through its transition to independence. INTERFET initially overlapped with
UNTAET until February 2000 when command of military operations in INTERFET
was integrated with UNTAET. UNTAET’s mandate was broad and included
assisting East Timor to 1) recover from the violence through humanitarian aid and
reconstruction assistance; 2) establish a functioning government; and 3) aid East
Timorese who fled or were forcibly transported to Indonesia West Timor during the
violence. In September 2000, three U.N. humanitarian workers were killed by
members of East Timorese militia groups, resulting in the temporary suspension of
U.N. humanitarian activities in West Timor.
On May 17, 2002, Security Council Resolution 1410 (2002) established a
successor mission to UNTAET, the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor
(UNMISET) for an initial period of 12 months. Subsequent resolutions extended the
mandate at six-month intervals until May 20, 2005.
United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL)
On April 28, 2005, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1599 (2005)
establishing the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), a special political
mission to carry out peace-building activities and mandated for one year until May
19, 2006.27 UNOTIL activities included support for state institutions, such as
national capacity in justice and finance, strengthening democratic governance and
observance of human rights, and supporting the development of a national police
force, particularly the Border Patrol Unit.
In his address to the U.N. Security Council on January 23, 2006, Mr. Sukehiro
Hasegawa, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste,
provided a summary of the UNOTIL efforts and achievements, many of which
demonstrated progress on implementing mandated programs and preparing for the
transfer of capacity building support functions. In the support-to-state institutions,
the Timorese were building the necessary skills to administer their public institutions;
national judges were being trained; and expertise was being developed in the finance
sector. On the observance of democratic governance and human rights, progress had
been made on drafting a strategic plan, developing a complaint handling system, and
working on international legal obligations. Assessments and training of the Border
Patrol Unit were taking place and had moved to the next phase which involved
interaction with the Indonesian Army counterparts.
However, some concerns about progress were also raised by Mr. Hasegawa.
First, significant weaknesses remained in the implementation of capacity building in
the justice and finance sectors, and international advisory support was seen as critical
to continued success. There was particular concern about roughly 3,000 pending
civil and criminal cases. Second, human rights activities would need continued
outside supervision and monitoring, and with unresolved issues over accountability
for the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999, the timing was
particularly sensitive. Third, additional training was required of the BPF to minimize
27 “Security Council Establishes One-Year Political Mission in Timor-Leste,” U.N. Press
border incidents. In sum, although much had been accomplished, Mr. Hasegawa
described the situation as “fragile.” He also viewed it as critical to maintain stability
and peace to foster confidence in the political system with the 2007 presidential and
With the sharp increase in violence beginning in April 2006, and as the crisis
escalated into the summer, UNOTIL’s mandate was extended a number of times: On
May 12, 2006, the U.N. Security Council extended the mandate until June 20, 2006
(Resolution 1677 (2006)); on June 7, the U.N. Security Council extended the
mandate for two months until August 20, 2006 (Resolution 1690 (2006)); and on
August 18, the U.N. Security Council extended the mandate for five days until
August 25, 2006 (Resolution 1703 (2006)), when a new U.N. mission was
United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)
On August 25, 2006, the U.N. Security Council established a new, expanded
mission in East Timor for an initial period of six months under Resolution 1704
(2006) called the U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). The mandate
calls for a civilian component, police personnel, and military liaison and staff officers
to help assist with the fragile security, political, and humanitarian situation. Part of
the mandate also calls for support to the presidential and parliamentary electoral
process.28 The Secretary General’s report highlighted the need for a
“multidimensional and integrated” mission and for cooperation from the International
Security Force (ISF), which was deployed after violence erupted in April 2006 and
is made up of troops from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Portugal.
East Timor is relatively more stable than it was in 2006 and national elections
took place as scheduled on April 9, 2007. Still many challenges remain, including
a relatively high number of displaced people who are still unable to return to their
homes; poverty; underdevelopment; and high unemployment all in the context of
fragile judicial and political institutions and in an atmosphere punctuated by
volatility and insecurity. The Secretary General issued his report on UNMIT
(covering the period from August 9, 2006 to January 26, 2007). He identified some
improvements in the overall situation and highlighted the continued need for long-
term commitment by the international community to achieve stability, development
and democratic governance.29 In his report, he highlighted three main substantive
areas of focus with specific activities under each heading: 1) Political Developments
Since August 2006 (support for dialogue and reconciliation, support for the electoral
process, follow up to the report of the Independent Special Commission of Inquiry,
promotion of human rights and the administration of justice); 2) Restoration and
Maintenance of Public Security (police, military); and 3) Support for the ‘Compact’,
(Democratic Governance, Socio-economic Development and Humanitarian Relief).
28 United Nations, “Report of the Secretary-General on Timor-Leste Pursuant to Security
Council Resolution (S/2006/628),” August 8, 2006.
29 United Nations, “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated
Mission in Timor-Leste (for the period from 9 August 2006 to 26 January 2007),
(S/2007/50),” February 1, 2007.
On Feburary 23, 2007, the U.N. Security Council extended the mandate of
UNMIT until February 26, 2008 (Resolution 1745 (2007)) and also approved
temporary reinforcement of police in anticipation of the April national elections. As
of February 2007, UNMIT is made up of 156 international staff and 382 national
staff in its civilian component, 1,313 police officers, and 33 military and liaison
officers. The operation is led by Special Representative Atul Khare.
East Timor’s off-shore energy resources are extensive and, if properly managed,
likely can provide the necessary financial resources to develop the country and
provide basic welfare for its people, which currently number less than one million.
Disagreements with Australia over the maritime boundary, which in the past had held
up development, have been put aside in favor of revenue sharing agreements. In
January 2006, Australia and East Timor signed a treaty on Certain Maritime
Agreements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) that increased East Timor’s share of
hydrocarbon revenues from 18% to 50% for the Greater Sunrise field. In 2005-2006
East Timor earned an estimated $360 million dollars in hydrocarbon revenues. East
Timor is already receiving revenue in a 90%-10% sharing agreement in favor of East
Timor under an earlier agreement on the Bayu-Udan field, which has an estimated
400 million barrels of oil and 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. This has been facilitated
by completion of a pipeline from the offshore field to processing centers in Darwin,
Australia. East Timor has favored a pipeline to East Timor but the configuration of
the seabed, lack of trained East Timorese workers or infrastructure, and the potential
for instability led industry to favor Darwin. Conoco-Phillips has constructed a new
liquified natural gas plant near Darwin. The Bayu-Udan field is expected to be30
depleted by 2023 under current rates of production. It has been reported that East
Timor has over $800 million in energy revenues.31
Reconstruction, Poverty Reduction, and
East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and one of the poorest in the world.
The violence of 1999 left most of the country’s infrastructure devastated. Poverty is
widespread with many areas lacking electricity, clean water, good roads or adequate
communications. The mountainous terrain is both difficult and infertile. Though the
international community has supported East Timor, its rehabilitation needs sustained
efforts aimed at job creation, infrastructure reconstruction and development, and
improved health conditions and literacy rates. Language may be a problem as
observers believe Indonesian is a more widely used working language than the
official Tetun or Portuguese.
30 “East Timor: Treaty Underpins the Country’s Future,” Oxford Analytica, March 13, 2006.
31 “Commission of Inquiry Report Can Help Timor-Leste Overcome Divisions,” ETAN,
[ h t t p : / / www.et an.or g/ news/ 2006] .
Significant economic development is required to help the East Timorese people
improve their basic standard of living. Experts predict external assistance will
remain critical in the post-independence phase, particularly for capacity building in
governance, and even as revenue from oil and gas from the Timor Gap increases.
Other economic activity includes coffee and the potential for tourism and fisheries.
The United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2003-2005 (UNDAF)
provides a strategic road map for U.N. agencies. Other economic challenges include
the strengthening of democratic institutions and emerging civil society, education and
training of the nation’s workforce to develop the new institutions of the state and its
economy, the implementation of the rule of law, and rebuilding infrastructure. East
Timor is a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and has
indicated an interest in ASEAN membership.32
In January 2000, an international commission of inquiry recommended that an
international tribunal be established to consider crimes stemming from violence that
followed the 1999 independence referendum. Instead, the Indonesian government33
pursued its own investigation. The Indonesian process led the United States and a
number of its allies to express their dissatisfaction.34 Then-U.N. Secretary General
Kofi Annan also expressed his displeasure with the outcome of the Indonesian
tribunal. The United States has expressed the view that the joint Indonesia-East35
Timor Commission should not be the only judicial vehicle used. The Serious
Crimes Unit (SCU) of UNMISET, which operated separately from the Indonesian36
investigation, indicted over 380 for alleged crimes, convicted 55, and acquitted
three for their role in crimes associated with the 1999 referendum.37 The Indonesian
process has led to the imprisonment of only one individual for crimes committed in
East Timor in 1999.
President Gusmao has supported a joint East Timor-Indonesia Commission of
Truth and Friendship as the preferred vehicle to deal with past atrocities reportedly
in the hope that the two nations can put the past behind them. The first of a series of38
public hearings to address the atrocities was held in Bali in February 2007. Others
32 See link to this and other reports at [http://www.tl.undp.org/undp/for_download/
33 Paul Barber, “Military Impunity Undermines Democracy,” The Jakarta Post, August 19,
34 “Several Countries Concerned About Trials of East Timor Rights Abusers,” Organization
of Asia-Pacific News, August 25, 2004.
35 “US Calls for UN Inquiry on Timor,” BBC News, December 23, 2005.
36 “East Timor’s Foreign Min Opposes Intl Rights Tribunal,” Dow Jones, September 8,
37 See S/2005/99, pp. 6-8 (paragraphs 24-32).
38 “East Timor Hearings Highlight Enduring Wounds with Indons,” Australian Associated
have been critical of Gusmao for not holding Indonesia accountable for the atrocities
outlined in the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor
(CAVR) that documented executions, torture, mutilations, and rape that occurred in
If Gusmao becomes prime minister, it appears likely that there would be no change
in policy on how to resolve past human rights abuses perpetrated by Indonesians at
the time of East Timor’s independence.
The 2006 State Department Country Report on Human Rights practices in East
Timor viewed the East Timorese government as “generally respecting” the rights of
its citizens but found that “societal divisions based on regional origin (eastern vs
western) emerged as a major problem during the year, resulting in widespread
discrimination, segregation, and violence, particularly in the capital.” It also stated
that “excessive use of force and abuse of authority by the police was a problem.”41
Challenges and Potential Issues for Congress
The Debate Over Timing the Withdrawal of a U.N. Presence
When the mandate of the UNOTIL mission was scheduled to end on May 19,
2006, questions were raised about whether a U.N. presence should remain in East
Timor for another year. Supporters of a continued U.N. role argued that East Timor
was not ready for a U.N. departure as the institutions of state were too fragile.
Although there were a number of the achievements in East Timor, it remained
vulnerable. There was a need to improve security services and the judiciary, and to
ensure greater institutional transparency and the rule of law, including security and
training on the border, electoral assistance, and advisors in the justice and financial
sectors. East Timor had also requested that the U.N. maintain a presence.
On the other hand, at the time, the United States thought East Timor should
reduce its reliance on direct assistance from the United Nations, though with
continuing support from the international community in a number of important
political and economic sectors, particularly in strengthening democratic institutions,
infrastructure, economic development, and the training of security services.42 And
East Timor could get assistance in other ways from the international community,
such as the UNDP, the World Bank, bilateral donors, and expert advisors. Assistance
Press, February 23, 2007.
39 Fabio Scarpello, “Politics and Poverty Hopes Rest Firmly on East Timor’s First Post-
Independence Election,” South China Morning Post, April 7, 2007.
40 See [http://www.cavr-timorleste.org/] and United Nations, Report of the Secretary General
on Justice and Reconciliation for Timor-Leste,” S/2006/580, July 26, 2006.
41 “East Timor,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Department of State, Bureau
of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, released March 6, 2007.
42 United States Mission to the United Nations, Press Release #28, February 28, 2005.
could also come from the United Nations, such as the U.N. Election Needs
Assessment Mission, without infringing on East Timor’s sovereignty.
These opposing views reflect an interesting debate in the timing of the departure
of the United Nations (or other entity coordinating post-conflict reconstruction
efforts) from fragile states. Questions emerge about the length of time the United
Nations should remain, what support is still required of the international community;
and the appropriate criteria to measure effectiveness of aid and progress. With donor
fatigue and limited budgets for humanitarian crises and development assistance
among many donors, there are many pressures for assistance, and as the East Timor
situation demonstrates, many complicating factors in determining the right course of
U.S. Assistance to East Timor
In addition to emergency humanitarian assistance, the United States has
continued to provide substantial bilateral assistance to East Timor as outlined in the
chart below. Some observers wonder if a reduction in U.S. assistance at this critical
time is prudent. U.S. aid programs in East Timor have the goal of building a viable
self sufficient free market economy, developing basic public services (such as
health), supporting good governance through an emerging democratic political
system and post-conflict democracy initiatives. U.S. assistance has helped the
economic and political development of East Timor by supporting independent
media, civil society organizations, and political parties as well as strengthening the
electoral process, building judicial institutions, and strengthening governmental
capacity. In the opinion of many experts East Timor remains in need of sustained
bilateral, multilateral, and regional support.
U.S. Assistance to East Timor, FY2006/2008
(dollars in 000s)
AccountFY2006 ActualFY2008 Request
Economic Support Fund 18,8108,640
Foreign Military Financing9900
International Military Education193400
Int. Narcotics Control and Law1,4851,010
PL 480 Food Aid1,1820
Tot a l s 22,660 10,050
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification Document, released February
Other Potential Issues for Congress
Supporters of a continued U.N. role argued that East Timor was not ready for
the U.N. departure as the institutions of state were fragile. There is a need to improve
security services and the judiciary, and to ensure greater institutional transparency
and the rule of law. Consideration of the terms of the U.N.’s current presence will
have to be examined in order that destabilization does not follow the U.N.’s next
departure from East Timor.
United States’ relations with East Timor have been closely associated with U.S.
relations with Indonesia and Jakarta’s former control over East Timor. Congress has
expressed concern with the legacy of past human rights abuses in East Timor by the
Indonesian military and Indonesian military backed militias. This has in the past led
Congress to restrict military-to-military contact between the United States and
Indonesia. (For additional information see CRS Report RL32394, Indonesia:
Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics and American Interests, by Bruce Vaughn.)
Looking to its future, the East Timorese government appears ready to put its past
behind it in order to have a productive relationship with Indonesia. Indonesia has a
population of some 230 million as compared to East Timor’s 800,000 to one million.
Consideration must be given to the proper place for human rights concerns as the
United States considers its policies towards both East Timor and Indonesia.
The Portuguese begin their period of influence over East Timor.
Fretlin declares independence on November 28 and Indonesia invades East Timor on
December 7, 1975. Resistance, repression, and famine lead to the death of an
estimated 200,000 by the end of Indonesian rule in 1999.
The U.N. Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) is established in June to organize a
referendum and oversee the transition. East Timorese then overwhelmingly vote for
independence in the UN sponsored referendum on August 30. Some 1,300 East
Timorese are killed and hundreds of thousands are displaced as a result of post
referendum attacks by pro-Indonesian militias. The International Force East Timor
(INTERFET) is established under Australian command and deployed on September
from October 1999 to May 2002.
An international commission of inquiry recommends that a special tribunal be
established to look into post referendum violence of 1999.
On August 30, East Timor holds elections for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new
constitution. East Timor and Australia sign an MoU on Timor Sea oil and gas fields.
43 Drawn largely from BBC News reporting and “Timeline East Timor,” BBC News,
January 12, 2007.
East Timor gains its independence on May 20. The United Nations establishes the
U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which is extended until May
2006. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission opens. Indonesia opens its inquiry
into the atrocities.
Production at the Bayu-Udan oil and gas field begins in the Timor Sea. Only one
individual, Militia Leader Eurico Guterres is convicted by Indonesian courts for
abuses in the post 1999 violence.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission leaves East Timor in May. The Joint Indonesian-East
Timorese Truth Commission begins.
January: East Timor and Australia sign a deal to share revenues from Greater Sunrise
filed without negotiating the maritime boundary.
February: Over 400 troops strike over pay and conditions.
March: Some 591 troops protesting pay and conditions are dismissed.
April: Demonstrations outside the government Palace turn violent.
May: Violence mounts: Interior Minister Lobato arms civilian groups and the
government appeals for foreign assistance. President Gusmao declares a state of
emergency and assumes direct control of security forces. Foreign troops arrive to
June: Prime Minister Alkatiri resigns.
July: Nobel Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta is sworn in as Prime Minister.
August: The U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is established.
April: First round of presidential elections leads to a run off between Francisco
Guterres and Ramos-Horta.