East Timor Independence Days

East Timor’s road to independence – achieved on 20 May 2002 – was long and traumatic.

The people of the first new nation of the century suffered some of the worst atrocities of modern times.

Human rights activists claim that at least 200,000 Timorese — about one quarter of the 1975 population – died as a result of Indonesia’s 25-year occupation, which ended in 1999. In its impact, this makes the genocide in East Timor far worse than the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and more comparable to Rwanda in and Cambodia under Pol Pot .

Indonesia invaded shortly after Portugal withdrew in 1975 and forcefully tried to subdue a resentful people and guerrillas fighting for independence.

World powers were accused of contributing to the subsequent calamity by turning a blind eye or by actively supporting the occupation by supplying weapons.

Indonesia finally agreed in 1999 to let the East Timorese choose between independence and local autonomy. Militia loyal to Indonesia, apparently assisted by the military, tried in vain to use terror to discourage a vote for independence.

When the referendum showed overwhelming support for independence, the loyalists went on the rampage, murdering hundreds and reducing towns to ruins. An international peacekeeping force halted the mayhem and paved the way for a United Nations mission which helped East Timor back onto its feet.

As one of Asia’s poorest nations, East Timor will rely on outside help for many years. The infrastructure is poor and the country is drought-prone.


An East Timorese police speaks to the radio near the “Campo da Democracia e Liberdade”, before the last rally of the campaign for presidency of the candidate Xanana Gusmão, Dili, East Timor, 2002.04.13.
Elderly inside her house in the mountainous region of Ainaro one of the poorest in the country, East Timor, 2002.05.31.
East Timoreses representatives of the traditional power rejoicing after the declaration of independence, in the camp of Taci-Tolo, East Timor, 2002.05.20.
Horácio ligths a hand-made cigarette inside his cell of block B of the Becora Prison, he was convicted by first degree murder committed during the 1999 rampage, Dili, East Timor, 2002.06.04.
An East-Timorese looks for an element of the UN police force patrolling the Taibessi market, Dili, 2002.05.31.
An old East Timorese refugee looks trough the window of the bus that will take some returned refugees from the UNHCR transit centre of Batugade to the next transit centre in Dili, Batugade border, East Timor, 2002.05.15. As the Independence Day is close the number of refugees in West Timor returning to East Timor increases, arriving to 600 people by truck convoy.
The East-Timorese youth rejoice during a rock concert celebrating the declaration of Independence at Taci-Tolo camp, East Timor, 2002.05.20.
An inmate looks to his face in a broken mirror inside his cell of the block D of the Becora Prison, Dili, East Timor, 2002.06.04.
Two young East-Timoreses look to the sea on the first morning of East Timor as an independent country, Dili, East Timor, 2002.05.31.
José Pinto, 10 years old, looks backwards inside the “Posko” bus that collects the kids from the streets, in the beginning of the night. Dili, East Timor, 2002.04.18 José´s parents live in an extreme poverty and he has run away to Dili allured by the easy money from begging to international co-operators, tourists and tobacco selling.
Child inside family’s sleeping room at the mountainous region of Ainaro one of the poorest in the country, EastTimor, 2002/06/01.
Joanina Pereira, 20 years old, sleeps near his baby boy, Domingos de Jesus, 2 months old, at the Critical Room of Dili`s National Hospital, East Timor, 2002/06/05. The newest country of the world has a mortality rate of children under 5 years of 201 by one thousand.
Ronaldo Soares, holds a fighter-cock, in front of his new home rebuilt with the assistance of UNHCR after his return as a refugee from Kupang (West Timor), Ainaro, East Timor, 2002.06.02.
Guilhermino Agapito, 8 years old, sleeps in a military tent, after lunch, in “Posko” Street Children shelter in Dili, East Timor 2002.04.18 His father its unemployed and the mother a domestic worker, they could not afford the costs (5 USD) of the education of Agapito in the payed school of Ailoclara, were they live, and decided to leave him in charge of “Posko” teachers.
A group of East Timoreses leave from an exhibition in Dili’s rebuilt municipal market that was completely destroyed during the 1999 rampage, East Timor, 2002.05.16.