Timor-Leste: Scars, Trauma and the Road to Independence

A relatively young country, Timor-Leste is also a fiercely proud one. Its recent history is traumatic in the extreme: upon gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, it fell under Indonesian rule until 2002.

This was not a happy period. As their new overlords conducted a campaign of pacification, resulting in an enormous loss of life, Timor found itself slowly smothered. Outside help failed to materialise as authority slowly, but inexorably, ceded to the Indonesian administration. Rebellious sentiment fostered and fermented: in 1999 an UN-backed referendum saw Timor-Leste vote to claim independence.

The resulting chaos left a profound mark on the country, a scar which continues to heal. Bands of brigands, opposed to the vote and backed by Indonesian forces, ran roughshod over the country, bringing the country to its knees as civil war raged. Timor was torn asunder; innocents massacred, infrastructure decimated. Banks, hospitals, power stations, schools: all destroyed by the departing Indonesians to leave the young nation clinging to survival. A dense black pall descended.

Recovery has been sure, but slow. The twenty years since have seen Timor trying to find its feet. There have been wobbles, and the inescapable feeling of being observed by outside forces has never vanished. But still, Timor continues to grow and escape the shackles of its history, a proud nation attempting to forge its path into the future.

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