Official name Repúblika Demokrátika Timor Lorosa’e (Tetum);
República Democrática de Timor-Leste (Portuguese) (Democratic Republic
Form of government republic with one legislative body (National
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Official languages Tetum; Portuguese2
Official religion none
Monetary unit dollar (U.S.$)
Population estimate (2008) 1,078,000
Total area (sq mi) 5,760
Total area (sq km) 14,919
1Per U.S. Board on Geographic Names: conventional short-form name is
East Timor, conventional long-form name is Democratic Republic of
2Indonesian and English are “working” languages.
country occupying the eastern half of the island of Timor, the small
nearby islands of Atauro (Kambing) and Jaco, and the enclave of Ambeno
surrounding the town of Pante Makasar on the northwestern coast of
Timor. It is bounded by the Timor Sea to the southeast, the Wetar Strait
to the north, the Ombai Strait to the northwest, and western Timor (part
of the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur) to the southwest.
Dili is the capital and largest city.
The eastern part of Timor is rugged, with the mountains rising to
9,721 feet (2,963 metres) at Mount Tatamailau (Tata Mailau) in the
centre of a high plateau. The area has a dry tropical climate and
moderate rainfall. Hilly areas are covered with sandalwood; scrub and
grass grow in the lowlands, together with coconut palms and eucalyptus
trees. There are hot springs and numerous mountain streams. Wildlife
includes the cuscus (a species of marsupial), monkeys, deer, civet cats,
snakes, and crocodiles. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy;
chief products include copra, hides, coffee, cotton, rice, wheat,
tobacco, wool, potatoes, and corn (maize), as well as pearls and
sandalwood. Soap, perfumes, processed food, chemicals, and machine goods
are produced, and coffee is processed. Crafts include pottery, wood and
ivory carving, plaiting, coir production, and basket making. Roads run
parallel to the northeastern coast and link Maubara, Manatuto, Tutuala,
and Dili. Most of the people are of Papuan, Malayan, and Polynesian
origin and are predominantly Christian. About 40 different Papuan and
Malayan languages or dialects are spoken, dominated by Tetum; Portuguese
is spoken by a small fraction of the population.
The Ambeno area has valuable sandalwood forests, coconut groves, and
rice plantations. Its chief town, Pante Makasar, is a port and has an
airport. The hilly offshore island of Atauro, which also has an airport,
has a population occupied mainly in fishing. The currency is the U.S.
The Portuguese first settled on Timor in 1520, and the Spanish
arrived in 1522. The Dutch took possession of the western portion of the
island in 1613. The British governed the island in 1812–15. The Dutch
and the Portuguese fought for supremacy over Timor; Portuguese
sovereignty over the island’s eastern half was settled by treaties in
1860 and 1893, although the latter became effective only in 1914.
Japanese forces occupied Timor during World War II. East Timor province,
including the Ambeno enclave, thereafter remained in Portuguese
possession until 1975, when one of the major political parties there,
Fretilin (Frente Revolucionária de Timor Leste Independente
[Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor]), gained control of much
of the territory and declared its independence (November) as the
Democratic Republic of East Timor. The area was subsequently invaded and
occupied by Indonesian forces (in early December) and in 1976 was
declared by Indonesia to be an integral part of Indonesia as the
province of Timor Timur (East Timor).
Over the next two decades tens of thousands of East Timorese died
(some observers claim as many as 200,000 perished) resisting the
Indonesian occupation and annexation or as a result of famine and
disease. In response to mounting international pressure, the Indonesian
government authorized a referendum there (Aug. 30, 1999) to determine
the future of East Timor. Almost four-fifths of the voters supported
independence, and the Indonesian parliament rescinded Indonesia’s
annexation of the territory. East Timor was returned to its
preannexation status of independence, but as a non-self-governing
territory under UN supervision. However, the transfer of power was
accompanied by violence perpetrated by anti-independence militants.
Hundreds were killed, and thousands fled to the western half of the
island; refugees subsequently began returning home.
In April 2002 Xanana Gusmão, leader of one of the former opposition
groups, was elected East Timor’s first president. The territory achieved
full status as a sovereign state shortly thereafter. Prime Minister José
Ramos-Horta was elected president in May 2007, succeeding Gusmão, but
tensions within the country remained high. In February 2008 President
Ramos-Horta was seriously injured when he was shot by militant forces in
an attempted assassination.