Before 1974


Human settlement has occurred on East Timor for thousands of years. Portuguese involvement commenced in the 1500s although as late as the mid-nineteenth century its presence was limited to a few tiny settlements on the northern coast. The Portuguese exploited rivalries between various groups, ensuring that indigenous political alliances remained weak and a sense of national identity remained undeveloped. For much of the 20th century Portugal itself was under the rule of the Salazar dictatorship, which banned strikes, lockouts and political parties. It used censorship, propaganda, and political imprisonment to "neutralize" society, while according special privileges to the church in the areas of law and education. Portuguese rule inside East Timor reflected this relationship between church and state.

Ten days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Australian, British and Dutch troops landed in East Timor in a violation of Portuguese neutrality. Japanese forces entered East Timor on 19 February 1942. According to Chega, "The impact upon East Timorese society was devastating. Between 40,000 and 60,000 East Timorese are reported to have died. Many were tortured and killed by Japanese troops on suspicion of assisting Australian guerrilla fighters. Sexual slavery of East Timorese women by Japanese troops was widespread. In addition the territory was impoverished by the war, and divisions were sown between those seen to have supported the Japanese and those who supported the small Australian guerrilla force... No international investigation was conducted for war crimes committed by either occupying country, and no war reparations have been paid to the East Timorese people."1

During the 1950s and 1960s, Indonesia consistently stressed that its boundaries were no more than those of the Dutch East Indies. During its 1961 campaign to incorporate Dutch New Guinea (later known as Irian Jaya or West Papua), Indonesia's foreign minister Subandrio stated that East Timor was a Portuguese territory and therefore Indonesia had no claim to it.2 Indonesia maintained diplomatic relations with the Portuguese government. Sukarno had visited Portugal in 1959 and it opened a consulate in Dili.

In 1974, Indonesia's foreign minister Adam Malik wrote to East Timorese leader Jose Ramos-Horta:

  1. The independence of every country is the right of every nation, with no exception for the people in Timor.
  2. The Government as well as the people of Indonesia have no intention to increase or to expand their territory, or to occupy other territories other that [sic] what is stipulated in their Constitution. This reiteration is to give you a clear idea, so that there may be no doubt in the minds of the people of Timor in expressing their own wishes.
  3. For this reason, whoever will govern in Timor in the future after independence, can be assured that the Government of Indonesia will always strive to maintain good relations, friendship and cooperation for the benefit of both countries.

1 CAVR 2005, Final Report Part 3 - The History of the Conflict, p 10.

2 UN Department of Political Affairs, Decolonization Documents No. 7, August 1976, p. 41.

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