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East Timor Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

East Timor has, since independence in May 2002, prioritized good relations with the former occupation power Indonesia. Already in July of that year, a plan for economic cooperation was established and Indonesia is now one of the country's most important trading partners. Relations with Australia have been complicated, partly because of a dispute over the boundary line in the oil and gas-rich sea that separates the countries.

East Timor has agreed to agree with Indonesia on the border demarcation between the countries, among other things in order to gain access to the East Timorian exclave Oekussi in West Timor. A definitive border agreement was signed in 2005. The government of Dili has also been adversely affected by the demands of the outside world on Indonesia to legally probe citizens suspected of involvement in the 1999 wave of violence and the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor.

  • Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in East Timor for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Relations with Australia are strained, partly because Australians acknowledged Indonesia's supremacy over East Timor during the occupation. Hard negotiations have been going on between East Timor and Australia on the rights to oil and gas fields in Lake Timor, which separate the countries. East Timor demanded that the border go between the countries, which would mean that East Timor became the owner of almost all oil and gas deposits. However, Australia considered that an agreement with the Government of Indonesia from 1972 should apply. According to this, most of the mineral deposits are in Australian waters.

In 2006, the countries agreed to settle the border conflict for 50 years and until then divide equally the income from this part of Lake Timor. But when Australia, in leaked secret documents, was accused of eavesdropping East Timorese representatives during the negotiations, East Timor turned in 2013 to the United Nations International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) to try to have the agreement annulled. In March 2019, the two countries signed an agreement on the border crossing at sea, where East Timor received most of the oil and gas fields.

Defense and Foreign Policy of East TimorAustralia is also an important aid donor and has also led both the UN Interfet force 1999–2002 and participated in the UN operation Unmiset 2002-2005. Australia also led the international force that was deployed in East Timor 2006-2012.

East Timor has, since the 1999 wave of violence, received large sums in the form of aid from other countries. However, aid has declined as revenue from the country's oil and gas industry has grown. A number of countries have completely phased out their bilateral assistance, including Sweden. For the financial year 2004/2005, East Timor managed for the first time to cover central government expenditure with its own assets.

East Timor has good relations with China, which already in 1975 acknowledged the independence of the territory. China was also the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the new nation in 2002.

The Dili governments have since been striving to strengthen East Timor's regional relations. In 2011, the country applied for membership in ASEAN. The application was supported by several countries, including Indonesia, but Singapore hesitated because it feared that East Timor did not have sufficient resources to cope with membership. Asean commissioned an investigation into East Timor's application and gave the country observer status.

Defense

The defense was built at the beginning of the 2000s under UN supervision and consists of about 2,200 soldiers, divided into an army and a small naval force.

In May 2004, the government assumed responsibility for the country's security and the last UN peacekeeping troops left East Timor a year later. In connection with the 2006 unrest, an Australian-led peacekeeping UN force of around 1,000 men was reinstated. The force was taken home at the end of 2012, when security in East Timor was judged to be sufficiently good.

The defense has been trained by the Portuguese and Australian military. Several of the soldiers in the former Falintil guerrillas have been retrained and joined the new defense force. Many of them have received financial compensation from the state to facilitate their conversion to civilian life. Falintil was formally dissolved in 2011.

FACTS - DEFENSE

army

1 250 men (2017)

The fleet

80 men (2017)

Military expenditure's share of GDP

0.9 percent (2017)

Military spending's share of the state budget

1.7 percent (2017)

2009

March

Twenty-seven are indicted for the attempted murder

Twenty-seven people are indicted for involvement in the assassination attempts of President Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Gusmão.

February

"Peace in exchange for impunity"

On the anniversary of the assassination attempts, the International Crisis Group publishes a report in which the think tank states that security in East Timor has increased substantially during the past year, but that it was at the expense of a legal settlement with the perpetrators behind the attacks. The government has negotiated peace in exchange for impunity for the rebels. At the same time, the large refugee camps formed around Dili in connection with the 2006 unrest have largely disappeared since people dared to return home. The streets of Dili are calm and the soldiers deserted from the army in the spring of 2006 (see Modern History) have returned to duty. However, the UN police and foreign soldiers remain in the country.


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