School and Education in East Timor

In the civil war before and after independence in 1999, a large part of schools in East Timor were destroyed. After independence, the government has given priority to the reconstruction of the education system in the country. The University of Dili reopened in 2001. Illiteracy is estimated at approx. 52% (2005).

In January 2004, Portugal sent East Timor humanitarian aid worth $ 63 million. US $. In February, offshore gas production started from the Bayu-Undan field in the Timor Sea, 500 km from Darwin in Australia and 250 km south of East Timor. Gas production will bring in the country 100 million annually. US $. In July 2006, the two countries signed an agreement that will provide East Timor with 50% of the gas production revenue in the field between the two countries. It could total 20 billion US $ throughout the life of the project.

In May, the UN reduced the number of peacekeeping troops in the country from 3000 to 700.

In November, a two-year trial ended in an Indonesian human rights court against 18 people accused of assaulting the people of East Timor after the 1999 vote. Rebel leader Eurico Guterres was the only one to maintain his charges but released until an appeals court has handled the case.

In January 2005, East Timor and Indonesia agreed to set up a Truth and Friendship Commission to investigate the 1,500 murders and human rights abuses that took place during and after the 1999 independence referendum. The Commission issued its final report in December 2008 and blamed it the massacres and burning of the country’s cities in 1999 in Indonesia. At the same time, the Commission found that there was a great deal of outstandingness to uncover the truth about human rights violations committed during Indonesia’s occupation of the country in 1975-99. About 18,600 people were killed or disappeared during this period. The Commission recommended that a new Joint Commission be set up to investigate the incidents during this period.

East Timor Country Flag

East Timor flag source: Countryaah.com

In April 2006, a major uprising broke out in the capital Dili. By then 600 soldiers had been dismissed for leaving their posts. A support demonstration for the soldiers in Dili developed into looting with 5 killed and 20,000 driven on the run. In May, fighting broke out between various factions within the military, and at the end of the month Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal sent troops to Dili in an attempt to stabilize the situation. On June 21, President Xanana Gusmão ordered Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri to resign, and this happened on July 26. On July 8, the post was taken over by Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta.

Former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, who had been sentenced to 7 years in prison for the violent crackdown on the 2006 uprising, tried in August 2007 to flee the country in a charter plane. He tried to use a special permit to have a heart operation in Malaysia, but the charter flight from Lobato was detained before take-off and the former minister sent back to jail.

In March 2007, Xanana Gusmão broke with Fretilin and formed her own party, CNRT, which took its name from the coalition that fought the Indonesian occupation in 1998-99.

Prime Minister Ramos Horta was elected to the country’s president in May 2007 in the second round of elections, and inaugurated a few weeks later. Fretilin won the parliamentary elections in June, with CNRT in second place, but CNRT brought together a coalition of parties that together obtained a majority. For weeks, quarrels continued over which of the two blocs should form government, but in August President Horta seized and appointed his predecessor Xanana Gusmão as new prime minister. Gusmão was the CNRT’s top candidate and had a seat in parliament.

In February 2008, the president was subjected to an assassination that nearly cost him his life. He was treated at a hospital in Australia and first returned to the country in April, calling on the remaining mountain rebels to surrender. He also urged the UN peacekeeping force to stay in the country for another 5 years to guarantee security.

In July, the Indonesian-Timorese Joint Truth Commission released its final report placing the responsibility for domestic violence up to and after the 1999 independence vote on Indonesia. At the same time, the Commission called on Indonesia to officially apologize to East Timor. It rejected Indonesian President Yudhoyono, who merely expressed his “deep regret” over the 1999 events.