Timeline: East Timor's long path to nationhood
East Timor's struggle for independence has been a long and bloody one. The following timeline charts the territory's recent history and the key events on the long path to nationhood:
April 1974 – Newly democratic Portugal decides to shed its colonies, abandoning its presence in East Timor after more than 400 years.
Suddenly cut lose, East Timor descends into factional in-fighting between rival political groups, some backed by Indonesia.
Dec. 7 1975 – Following months of covert destabilization operations, Indonesia launches a full-scale invasion of East Timor. Jakarta says the move is necessary to prevent a communist takeover in the territory.
Over the subsequent years, as Indonesia's military tries to assert control, some 200,000 Timorese are killed or die as a result of famine. The Indonesian army also loses an estimated 20,000 of its own men.
July 1976 – Indonesia's President Suharto formally annexes East Timor, declaring it the country's 26th province.
Nov. 1991 – Massacre of independence supporters at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery sparks resurgence in opposition to Indonesian rule and refocuses world attention on East Timor's plight.
Nov. 1992 – Guerilla leader Xanana Gusmao is captured by Indonesian troops, convicted of subversion and jailed for life in Jakarta's top security Cipinang prison.
His sentence is subsequently commuted to 20 years.
1996 – Nobel Peace Prize awarded jointly to the Bishop of East Timor, Carlos Belo, and Jose Ramos Horta, the leading international spokesman for the East Timorese cause.
The Nobel committee says the award honors "their sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people."
May 1998 – A collapsing Indonesian economy triggers widespread street protests forcing President Suharto from power.
Suharto's departure raises hopes that Jakarta, burdened with its own financial problems, will reconsider its position on East Timor.
June 9 1998 – In a significant shift in policy Indonesia's new president B.J. Habibie says he is willing to give East Timor a "special status" within Indonesia.
East Timorese independence supporters say the apparent concession does not go far enough.
May 1999 – Following a series of United Nations backed talks Indonesia and Portugal sign an agreement to allow East Timorese to finally have their say on their future in a referendum.
The United Nations agrees to administer the vote. However, the build up to the referendum is overshadowed by violence from pro-Indonesian militias backed by the Indonesian military.
Aug. 30 1999 – A massive 98.6 percent of registered voters turn out to cast their ballot. Voters are asked to chose between Jakarta's offer of autonomy within Indonesia, or full independence – 78.5 percent chose independence.
In the wake of the vote, the anger of pro-Jakarta militias and their supporters in the Indonesian military explodes in a bloody rampage.
Tens of thousands of East Timorese are forced to flee their homes; entire villages are burned to the ground, much of the territory's infrastructure is destroyed and unknown numbers are killed.
As worldwide outrage grows Indonesia's President Habibie is forced to allow an Australian-led international intervention force to move in and bring a halt to the violence.
Sept. 7, 1999 – Independence leader Xanana Gusmao is freed from jail in Jakarta, but the situation in East Timor is too dangerous for him to return to the territory.
Indonesia declares martial law in the territory, but militias continue to run amok and it becomes apparent Jakarta has little authority over East Timor.
Sept. 20, 1999 – First troops in international intervention force arrive in Dili. Demonstrations take place outside the Australian embassy from Indonesian's angry at Australia's role in the peace making operation.
In East Timor itself much of the territory lies in ruins and many of those who carried out the destruction disappear into refugee camps across the border in Indonesian controlled West Timor.
Oct. 18, 1999 -- Indonesian parliament endorses the result of the referendum and declares the 1976 annexation of East Timor void.
Oct. 25, 1999 – The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is established to guide the territory toward independence, building up the infrastructure and training for East Timorese self-government.
Nov. 1, 1999 – The last Indonesian troops leave East Timor as aid agencies and the UN begin efforts to bring home and estimated 200,000 refugees who fled the violence following the referendum.
Aug. 30 2001 – East Timor's first parliamentary elections are held.
Sixteen parties contest the ballot, but the long-standing pro-independence party Fretilin wins the lion's share of the vote.
The new assembly begins work drafting a constitution that will form the basis of independent East Timor's law and government.
April 14, 2002 – East Timorese to vote on the first president for their newly emerging nation.
May 20, 2002 – At midnight May 19 East Timor becomes the world's newest nation.
Massive celebrations are planned with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Australian Prime Minister John Howard among those attending.
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