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The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a sovereign island nation that occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, while West Timor is part of Indonesia. Timor-Leste is separated from Australia by an expanse of the Timor Sea.

Oecusse is an enclave of Timor-Leste that is separated from the main part of the country. Situated on the north coast of the island, it is bordered by Indonesian West Timor to the east, west, and south. Timor-Leste also includes the smaller islands of Atauro and Jaco. Atauro is north of Dili, and between the Indonesian islands of Alor and Wetar. Jaco is a tiny uninhabited island just off the eastern end of the main island.

Timor is an island in the Malay Archipelago. It is bounded by the Timor Sea (Indian Ocean) to the south and the Banda Sea (Pacific Ocean to the north, and has a roughly oblong shape in the direction of southwest-northeast.

Along with the Philippines, Timor-Leste is one of two predominantly Christian countries in Asia, and the two countries have maintained good relations. Nearly 97% of the population of Timor-Leste are Catholic, and just over 2% Protestant, the remainder divided between Islam, other religions, or no religion. However, animist beliefs are often mingled with Roman Catholicism.

Settled as long as 42,000 years ago, the people of Timor-Leste are believed to be the products of three waves of migration, with agriculture being introduced to the island by the second wave, which was of Austronesian people. For centuries, the Timorese people lived in isolated villages, farming the land and eating what they grew. Only a few coastal Timorese fished, and trade along the coast was conducted largely by Chinese.

The Portuguese set up outposts in Timor, occupying a larger part of the island beginning in 1769, when they founded the city of Dili, and made it the capital of Portuguese Timor. By 1914, the border between East Timor and West Timor was defined, with East Timor as a Portuguese colony while West Timor was colonized by the Dutch. Portugal exploited the island's sandalwood and established coffee plantations, but they invested little in the island's infrastructure, education, or health. Resistance to Portuguese occupation began in the early 1900s.

The Japanese occupied the port city of Dili during World War II, and guerrilla resistance began in the mountainous interior. With assistance from Allied forces, East Timorese guerrillas fought against the Japanese occupation. Known as the Battle of Timor, the resistance resulted in the deaths of as many as 70,000 East Timorese. Allied forces were eventually forced to evacuate the island, and the Japanese remained until the end of the war.

Portuguese rule was reinstated after Japan's surrender. During this period, some East Timorese were educated in Portuguese Catholic schools and seminaries, and these were the people who became the leaders after 1975, when Portugal abandoned its colony on Timor.

With the exit of the Portuguese, civil war between the various political parties in East Timor broke out. Rather than working out a government with other political factions, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor declared independence and attempted to establish a government. Fearing a communist state within the Indonesian archipelago, Indonesia occupied East Timor in December of 1975, doing so with the support of Australia, Britain, and the United States.

The United Nations opposed the occupation, declaring the territory to be still under Portuguese administration. Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was reported to have been brutal, with more than 100,000 deaths from killings, hunger, and illness. East Timorese guerrilla forces fought against Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999, when the United Nations sponsored an agreement between Indonesia and Portugal, providing for a referendum, which yielded a clear vote for independence. When Indonesia resisted, a peacekeeping force from Australia and the Philippines were deployed.

East Timor held its first elections in 2001, approving a constitution the following year, when East Timor was renamed Timor-Leste.

Although Timor-Leste has experienced factional violence and an assassination attempt against its president, its government is a constitutional republic in which presidential powers are limited. Its closest relations have been with the Philippines, which as provided military support and training, as well as serving as a trade partner.

The economy of Timor-Leste is primarily a service economy, with some revenue from offshore oil and gas reserves, although nearly half of its population lives in poverty. Agriculture employs nearly 80% of its population. Coffee is its major export, but most of the agricultural activity in Timor-Leste consists of subsistence farming.

 

 

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