East Timor Crisis: The Timor Question

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Why is Australia so interested in East Timor?

Darwin is only 600 miles from Dili so, by Australian standards, East Timor is a near neighbour and a painful burden on the national consciousness. In 1974, in a famous meeting in Java, the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, told President Suharto that he hoped East Timor would be incorporated in Indonesia. Two years later Canberra became the only country in the world to recognise the legality of the annexation.

Australia contains the largest number of Timorese in exile, and many activist groups and non-government organisations are based in Darwin. Concern and outrage at what is happening now are tempered by a residual fear of offending Indonesia, and by Australia's sense of itself as a big, underpopulated country nestling uncomfortably close to a vaster, teeming neighbour.

What is the original language of East Timor?

The radio broadcasts, television programmes and printed material put out by the UN in the run-up to the referendum on independence were in English, Indonesian, Portuguese and Tetum. Tetum is just one of a dozen native tongues.