East Timor


Timor split following battle between Portuguese and Dutch. Portuguese take the eastern half. [2]


Japanese invade, fighting battles with Australian troops. Up to 60,000 East Timorese are killed. Japan in control until 1945. [2]


US supports the Suharto regime's grab for power under the auspices of a Communist plot during Indonesia's independence movement, and assists in the following murder of up to 1 million civilians. The CIA helps by compiling death lists of communists for Suharto to execute. [3]


Anti-Fascist revolution in Portugal leads to promise to free colonies, encouraging parties to prepare for new future. [2]

17th September - the CIA cables the following statement to Washington: 'Jakarta is now sending guerrillas to provoke incidents that provide an excuse to invade.' [4]


August - Portuguese administration withdraws to offshore island of Atauro. [2]

The Australian ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woolcott, sends a cable to Canberra urging acquiescence with Indonesia’s plans to annex East Timor. “It would seem to me that this department [of Minerals and Energy] might well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed sea border and this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia than with Portugal; or independent Portuguese Timor,” he wrote. “I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about,” [6]

October - Five foreign journalists killed along border with West Timor, allegedly by Indonesian troops. [2]

November - After brief civil war, Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) declares East Timor independent. [2]

December - The day before Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, Kissinger meets with Suharto and approves of the invasion (this fact was denied by the US government until documents confirming it were declassified in 2001). [3]

Philip Liechty, Senior CIA officer in Indonesia in 1975, told John Pilger: "What I saw was that my own government was very much involved in what was going on in East Timor... you can be 100 per cent certain that Suharto was explicitly given the green light to do what he did." [4]

In secret cable, British ambassador in Jakarta says Indonesia ‘should absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible’ and that Britain ‘should avoid taking sides against the Indonesian government’. [1]

Indonesia invades, using its fight against communism as a pretext. It annexes territory as its 27th province, a move not recognised by the UN. [2]

Strong resistance to Indonesian rule followed by repression and famine in which 200,000 people are thought to have died. [2]


January - United Nations involvement in East Timor was actively and successfully blocked by the US Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Moynahan. A cable from Moynahan to Kissinger boasted of the considerable progress he was making in stalling the UN. He later wrote: "The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective... This task was given to me and I carried it through with no inconsiderable success." [4]


David Owen, then Foreign Secretary of Wilson's Labour government, agrees to sell the Hawk to Indonesia. From that point onwards, the British establishment played court to President Suharto by selling him more Hawks, missiles, helicopters, frigates, armoured vehicles, military communications and a fully equiped institution of technology for the Indonesian army. The pact was shamefully sealed by the superficial grandeur of royal handshakes during a visit by the Queen and Prince Charles soon after. [4]


Xanana Gusmao becomes leader of Falintil (Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor), the armed wing of Fretilin. [2]


Prime Minister John Major urges his European partners to cut aid to countries with bad human rights records. At the same time though, he agreed to the further sale of a billion dollars worth of Hawk aircraft to the Indonesian government, shaking hands with Indonesian Weapons Chief BJ Habibie at Downing Street. [4]

Santa Cruz cemetery massacre in which troops fire on mourners at a funeral in Dili of Fretilin supporter, killing more than 100 people. [2]

November - the British govt increased aid to Indonesia to 81 million - a rise of 250 per cent. Former Conservative MP Alan Clark, who played a major role in the deals, revealed that he sought no guarantees from the Indonesians as to how British weapons would be deployed. Asked whether he would have accepted a guarantee from the Indonesians that Hawks would not be used in East Timor, he retorted "A guarantee is worthless from any government as far as I'm concerned." He also scoffed at the claim that all the Hawks sold to Indonesia were merely 'training aircraft'. The fact of the matter is that all Hawks are 'trainers'. "That's just a label you put on it," he said. "The Hawk has a dual use with a capital D". [4]


Setback for the resistance as Gusmao is captured near Dili. In 1993 he is convicted of subversion and given a life sentence which is later reduced. [2]


Groups of East Timorese enter foreign embassies in Jakarta over the next few years seeking political asylum. [2]


20th anniversary of the Indonesian invasion marked by protest by 112 East Timorese and sympathisers who enter Russian and Dutch embassies in Jakarta. [2]


Acting Bishop of Dili, Carlos Belo, and resistance leader Jose Ramos Horta jointly awarded Nobel Peace Prize, raising international awareness of the East Timorese independence struggle. [2]

"Please, I beg you, do not sustain longer a conflict which without British arms sales to Indonesia could never have been sustained for so long."
[Bishop Belo to Tony Blair]


There is no mention of any arms sales to Indonesia in the 1998 UK Foreign Office Annual Report. An Amnesty International study, however, uncovers that Labour have made 64 separate arms contracts with Indonesia since accession to power. [4]

Indonesian President Suharto resigns. Replaced by Habibie who suggests territory may be given special status within Indonesia. [2]


January - Indonesia says it will consider independence for East Timor if people reject autonomy. [2]

February-April - Gusmao moved from Jakarta prison to house arrest. In response to increasing violence by anti-independence activists, Gusmao orders guerrillas to resume independence struggle. [2]

May - Indonesia, Portugal sign agreement to allow East Timorese to vote on their future. Deal endorsed by UN. [2]

August 30 - Almost 99% of 450,000-strong electorate votes in UN-organised referendum. [2]

September - Result of referendum shows 78% voters favoured independence. [2]

Violence erupts as anti-independence militia helped by the Indonesian military resume campaign of terror, leaving up to 1,000 dead. A quarter of the population flees, mainly to West Timor. Martial law imposed. [2]

Much of East Timor is destroyed and approximately 200,000 to 300,000 refugees are created. The UN evacuates, leaving the East Timorese to the mercy of the Indonesian forces. [3]

Britain continues arms sales to Jakarta and finally agrees only to delay not stop them, while inviting Indonesia to an arms fair in Britain. Blair government tries to take credit for stopping Indonesian violence by helping to establish UN peace enforcement mission. [1] [5]

Australian-led peacekeeping force arrives, gradually restores order. Many militia members flee to West Timor to avoid arrest. Indonesian parliament recognises outcome of referendum. [2]

October - Gusmao released. UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) established. [2]

December - International donors at a Tokyo conference agree to provide US $520 million in aid to help rebuild East Timor. [2]


September - UN evacuates staff from West Timor after murder of three refugee agency workers by pro-Indonesian militia gangs. An Indonesian court jails six men for up to 20 months for the killings, earning international outrage for being too lenient. [2]


East Timor, Australia sign deal over future revenues from oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. East Timor is to get 90% of the revenue which could amount to billions of dollars over 20 years. [2]

August - Election of 88-member Constituent Assembly; Fretilin party wins, taking 55 seats. [2]


January - Truth and reconciliation commission opens to try and heal wounds of past. [2]

Indonesia inaugurates human rights court to hold military accountable for atrocities in East Timor after 1999 independence vote. [2]

February - East Timor assembly approves draft constitution envisaging government run along parliamentary lines. [2]

East Timor and Indonesia sign two agreements aimed at easing relations. [2]

April - Xanana Gusmao wins presidential elections. [2]

20 May - UN Security Council sets up UN Mission of Support in East Timor (Unmiset) to help East Timorese authorities. [2]

20 May - Independence: VIP guests including former US president Bill Clinton and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri join celebrations in Dili. [2]

September - East Timor becomes 191st member of UN. [2]

November - Indonesian human rights tribunal convicts former pro-Jakarta militia leader Eurico Guterres of crimes against humanity for his part in 1999 massacre. [2]


March - Court in Jakarta sentences Indonesia's former military chief in East Timor, Brigadier General Noer Muis, to five years in jail for crimes against humanity. He is accused of failing to prevent attacks on civilians which followed 1999 independence vote. [2]

May - UN extends mandate of Unmiset for another year. [2]

August - Human rights court sentences Indonesian general Adam Damiri to three years in prison for failing to prevent violence during 1999 independence vote. [2]

December - Former militiaman Salvador Soares sentenced to ten and a half years in prison for his part in killing of two UN workers overseeing 1999 independence vote. [2]


January - Portugal announces it will give East Timor $63m (50m euros) in aid over the next three years. [2]

February - Production at an offshore gasfield begins. The Bayu Undan project is expected to earn $100m a year. [2]

UN Secretary General Annan calls for an extension to the UN presence in East Timor, but wants almost all peacekeepers withdrawn and a shift in focus towards helping fledgling political institutions. [2]

April - Prime Minister Alkatiri accuses Australia of unlawful exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. [2]

May - UN-backed tribunal issues arrest warrant for Indonesian presidential candidate General Wiranto. The former military chief has been accused of human rights abuses in East Timor. [2]