East Timor: Last colony in Asia

Asia’s last colony gains a new status as East Timor prepares for its full independence under President Xanana Gusmao, ending a 42-year process which saw the Maubere population face attempted genocide by the Indonesian Armed Forces.

The United Nations General assembly has decided to take East Timor off the list of non-autonomous territories in preparation for the territory’s full independence on 20th May, when governing powers will be handed over to President Gusmao and his government, led by Prime Minister Alkatiri.

In 1960, East Timor, along with the other Portuguese colonies (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Goa, Daman, Diu and São Tome and Principe Islands) were placed on the list of Countries without a Government.

In 1974, after the Portuguese Revolution of 25th April saw the de-colonisation process started and the Colonial War in Africa ended, the Portuguese authorities tried to install a provisory government in Dili, capital of East Timor, but a civil war broke out and Indonesia, given the nod by henry Kissinger, annexed the territory and turned it into its 27th province.

What ensued was 25 years of attempted genocide, with a third of the 600,000-strong population being killed, as Xanana Gusmao and his tiny band of ill-equipped rebels held off the might of the Indonesian Armed Forces for two decades in their mountain strongholds, before Gusmao was captured and imprisoned in Jakarta.

By this time, the international community had caught wind of the massacres that had taken place and Portugal campaigned implacably for justice to be done, resulting in the referendum on 30th August, 1999, which saw 78.5% of the population voting for independence from Indonesia.

The reaction was swift and cruel, marauding gangs of machete-wielding pro-Indonesian militia hacking men, women and children to death. However, the wheels of right and reason had already been set in motion. East Timor, now called Timor Loro Sae, opted for Portuguese as its official language as a signal that it does not want to be colonised economically by Australia or the United States, both of which are aware of the vast oil reserves in the Timor Gap.

Timor is the last territory in Asia to be crossed off the list of colonies, although there are still 16 such territories around the world: Western Sahara (to Morocco) in Africa and Gibraltar (United Kingdom) in Europe, in the Pacific, Samoa and Guam (USA), New Caldeonia (France), Pitcairn (UK), Tokelau (New Zealand) and in the Atlantic and Caribbean, the Virgin islands (USA) and the Turks and Caiman Islands, Santa Helena, Monserrat, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Falklands (all UK).


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