East Timor Crisis: The Timor Question

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The Independent Online
What are the differences between East Timor and West Timor?

Before the arrival of Western colonists in the 16th century, Timor consisted of hundreds of tiny "kingdoms", run by a traditional ruler called a liurai. The western part, now the Republic of Indonesia, came under Dutch rule. The East became a Portuguese colony. The two halves developed very distinct cultures. Those in the West are largely Muslim, with a residue of Dutch Protestantism. In the East, older people communicate in Portuguese, and the national faith is Catholicism. The Portuguese were susceptible to the local women, creating mixed blood Timorese.

Does Timor have any strategic importance?

The northern Ombai-Wetar Straits provided crucial access for American submarines in the Cold War. When Timorese began pressing for independence in 1975 America worried about the territory's future as a potential Cuba in the middle of Asia. When the pro-Western Indonesian dictator, Suharto, decided to annex the territory, the West, including America, Australia and Britain, gave passive support.

Richard Lloyd Parry