Compiled from the March 2008 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Area: 15,007 sq. km.
Cities: Capital—Dili; Baucau.
Climate: Tropical; hot, semi-arid;rainy and dry seasons.
Nationality: Noun—Timorese; adjective—Timorese.
Population: (2007) 1,100,000.
Religions: Catholic 96.5%.
Languages: Portuguese, Tetum (official languages); English, Bahasa Indonesia (working languages).
Health: Life expectancy—47.9/51.8 years (male/female). Child mortality rate (under 5)—91/69 (male/female) per 1,000 population.
Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: (from Portugal) November 28, 1975. Restoration of independence: May 20, 2002.
Constitution: March 2002.
Government branches: Executive—president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative—unicameral parliament. Judicial—Supreme Court and supporting hierarchy. As the Supreme Court has not yet been formed, the Court of Appeal functions, on an interim basis, as the Supreme Court.
Political parties: Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor (FRETILIN), National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), Democratic Party (PD), Social Democratic Party (PSD), Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), National Unity Party (PUN), People's Party of Timor (PPT), National Union of Timorese resistance (UNDERTIM), and Klibur Oan Timor Asuwain (KOTA).
GDP: (2006 est.) $320 million.
GDP per capita: (nominal 2007 est.) $373.
GDP composition by sector: (2006) Services 55%, agriculture 32%, industry 13%.
Industry: Types—coffee, oil and natural gas.
Trade: Exports—coffee, oil and natural gas. Major markets—Australia, Europe, Japan, United States. Imports—basic manufactures, commodities. Major sources—Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Japan, United States.
Timor-Leste is located in Southeast Asia, on the southernmost edge of the Indonesian archipelago, northwest of Australia. The country includes the eastern half of Timor island as well as the Oecussi enclave in the northwest portion of Indonesian West Timor, and the islands of Atauro and Jaco. The mixed Malay and Pacific Islander culture of the Timorese people reflects the geography of the country on the border of those two cultural areas. Portuguese influence during the centuries of colonial rule resulted in a substantial majority of the population identifying itself as Roman Catholic. Some of those who consider themselves Catholic practice a mixed form of religion that includes local animist customs. As a result of the colonial education system and the 23-year Indonesian occupation, approximately 13.5% of Timorese speak Portuguese, 43.3% speak Bahasa Indonesia, and 5.8% speak English, according to the 2004 census. Tetum, the most common of the local languages, is spoken by approximately 91% of the population, although only 46.2% speak Tetum Prasa, the form of Tetum dominant in the Dili district. Mambae, Kemak, and Fataluku are also widely spoken. This linguistic diversity is enshrined in the country constitution, which designates Portuguese and Tetum as official languages and English and Bahasa Indonesia as working languages.
Portuguese and Dutch traders made the first western contact with Timor in the early 16th century. Sandalwood and spice traders, as well as missionaries, maintained sporadic contact with the island until 1642, when the Portuguese moved into Timor in strength. The Portuguese and the Dutch, based at the western end of the island in Kupang, battled for influence until the present-day borders were agreed to by the colonial powers in 1906. Imperial Japan occupied East Timor from 1942-45. Portugal resumed colonial authority over East Timor in 1945 after the Japanese defeat in World War II.
Following a military coup in Lisbon in April 1974, Portugal began a rapid and disorganized decolonization process in most of its overseas territories, including East Timor. Political tensions—exacerbated by Indonesian involvement—heated up, and on August 11, 1975, the Timorese Democratic Union Party (UDT) launched a coup d’e'tat in Dili. The putsch was followed by a brief but bloody civil war in which the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) pushed UDT forces into Indonesian West Timor. Shortly after the FRETILIN victory in late September, Indonesian forces began incursions into East Timor. On October 16, five journalists from Australia, Britain, and New Zealand were murdered in the East Timorese town of Balibo shortly after they had filmed regular Indonesian army troops invading East Timorese territory. On November 28, FRETILIN declared East Timor an independent state, and Indonesia responded by launching a full-scale military invasion on December 7. On December 22, 1975 the UN Security Council called on Indonesia to withdraw its troops from East Timor.
Declaring a provisional government made up of Timorese allies on January 13, 1976, the Indonesian Government said it was acting to forestall civil strife in East Timor and to prevent the consolidation of power by the FRETILIN party. The Indonesians claimed that FRETILIN was communist in nature, while the party's leadership described itself as social democratic. Coming on the heels of the communist victories in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, the Indonesian claims were accepted by many in the West. Major powers also had little incentive to confront Indonesia over a territory seen as peripheral to their security interests. Nonetheless, the widespread popular support shown for the guerilla resistance launched by the Timorese made clear that the Indonesian occupation was not welcome. The Timorese were not permitted to determine their own political fate via a free vote, and the Indonesian occupation was never recognized by the United Nations.
The Indonesian occupation of Timor was initially characterized by a program of brutal military repression. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the occupation was increasingly characterized by programs to win the "hearts-and-mind” of the Timorese through the use of economic development assistance and job creation while maintaining a strict policy of political repression, although serious human rights violations—such as the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre—continued. Estimates of the number of Timorese who lost their lives to violence and hunger during the Indonesian occupation range from 100,000 to 250,000. On January 27, 1999, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced his government's desire to hold a referendum in which the people of East Timor would chose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence. Under an agreement among the United Nations, Portugal, and Indonesia, the referendum was held on August 30, 1999. When the results were announced on September 4-78% voted for independence with a 98.6% turnout—Timorese militias organized and supported by the Indonesian military (TNI) commenced a large-scale, scorched-earth campaign of retributtion. While pro-independence FALIN-TIL guerillas remained cantoned in UN-supervised camps, the militia and the TNI killed approximately 1,300 Timorese and forcibly relocated as many as 300,000 people into West Timor as refugees. The majority of the country's infrastructure, including homes, irrigation systems, water supply systems, and schools, and nearly 100% of the country's electrical grid were destroyed. On September 20, 1999 the Australian-led peacekeeping troops of the International Force for East Timor (INTER-FET) deployed to the country, bringing the violence to an end.
Timor-Leste became a fully independent republic with a parliamentary form of government on May 20, 2002, following approximately two and a half years under the authority of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The country's first parliament was formed from the 88-member Constituent Assembly chosen in free and fair, UN-supervised elections in August 2001. The FRETILIN Party won the majority of Assembly seats. Mari Alkatiri, FRETILIN's Secretary General, became the first Prime Minister, and the country's 29-member cabinet was dominated by FRETILIN. Xanana Gusmao was elected in free and fair elections on April 14, 2002 as President. UNTAET's mandate ended with East Timor's independence, but a successor organization, the UN Mission for the Support of East Timor (UNMISET), was established to provide additional support to the government. UNMISET's mandate expired on May 20, 2005 after the UN Security Council unanimously approved the creation of a small special political mission in Timor-Leste, the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), to take its place. Under the constitution ratified in March 2002, “laws and regulations in force continue to be applicable to all matters except to the extent that they are inconsistent with the Constitution.” Many Indonesian and UNTAET laws and regulations remain in effect, but are being gradually replaced by Timorese laws.
Despite the winding down of the UN presence in Timor-Leste, the institutions comprising the country's armed forces (F-FDTL) and police (PNTL) remained fragile and the authority of the state much more tenuous than most observers assumed at the time. In February 2006, approximately 400 military personnel (from a total military strength of 1,400) petitioned President Gusmao to address their complaints of discrimination against “westerners” or Loro Monu people by “easterners” or Loro Sae people in the military. Shortly after being dismissed by the F-FDTL commander, the petitioners staged protests in Dili. On April 28, the protests turned violent.
Citing ineffective police response, the government called in the F-FDTL to respond. The rioting and the police and military response resulted in six confirmed deaths. In response to the events of April 28, large numbers of people began to flee their homes for internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or the outlying districts and several members of the F-FDTL, including the commander of the Military Police, left their posts in protest of the military intervention. The violence escalated, with a series of deadly clashes among the F-FDTL, dissident military forces, civilians, and some police occurring on May 23-24, followed by deadly conflict between the F-FDTL and the PNTL on May 25. After these clashes civil order collapsed. Mob and gang violence took over the capital, resulting in additional deaths, widespread destruction of property, and the continued displacement of thousands of Dili residents.
At the peak of the crisis, approximately 80,000 IDPs fled to the districts and approximately 70,000 resided in camps in Dili. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and international relief organizations provided vital
services to the camps that included water and sanitation facilities, camp management support, hygiene kits, and mosquito nets. USAID also supported Timor-Leste's independent public radio and television broadcast services to ensure that reliable and timely information about current political events reached Timorese citizens. On May 28, the Government of Timor-Leste requested the Governments of Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Portugal to send security forces to stabilize the country. During June 2006, there was increasing pressure on Prime Minister Alk-atiri to resign as criticisms of his handling of the crisis mounted. Moreover, serious allegations emerged that he and other senior officials had been involved in illegal arms distribution. President Gusmao publicly requested that the prime minister step down, and threatened to resign himself if Alkatiri remained in office. Alkatiri resigned on June 27. Jose Ramos-Horta—the Foreign and Defense Minister in the Alkatiri government—became Prime Minister on July 10, and a new cabinet was sworn in on July 14, 2006.
As requested by the Government of Timor-Leste, the UN Security Council extended the small UN political mission, UNOTIL, through the summer while members considered the mandate of a more robust UN mission to assist Timor-Leste overcome its crisis. The United States coordinated closely with members of the Core Group on Timor-Leste (Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, and the United Kingdom) and the European Union to obtain approval of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which provided for a UN-led policing component of up to 1,608 personnel. UNMIT's mandate, set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 1704 approved on August 25, 2006, calls for the UN mission to assist in restoring stability, rebuilding the institutions comprising the security sector, supporting the Government of Timor-Leste in conducting the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, and achieving accountability for the crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed in 1999, among other aims. The UN Security Council extended UNMIT's mandate for one year in February 2007 and again on February 25, 2008. (UNMIT's own website provides additional information: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unmit/)
Although security in Dili has been significantly improved in comparison to the violence and anarchy that reigned in May and June, neither the establishment of a new government nor the expansion of the UN mission has reduced the levels of violence and criminality to their pre-April 2006 levels. While the overwhelming majority of the current violence is Timorese-on-Timorese perpetrated by gangs or martial arts groups, foreign nationals have also been targeted. Although much of the current fighting reflects a continuing lack of law and order underscored by the absence of judicial accountability, many observers note that communal and gang violence has been employed in many cases toward political ends.
As of January 2008, approximately 30,000 displaced persons live in over 30 camps in and around Dili. Another 70,000 or so IDPs remain in the outlying districts. Numbers of displaced persons remain essentially unchanged from late 2006. Police functions in Dili are currently under UN control, while members of the PNTL are being gradually reintegrated into city policing following vetting for criminal or ethical violations. UN officials and other observers expect the reform of the country's security sector to be a long-term challenge.
Timor-Leste held presidential elections in the spring of 2007. On April 9, voters chose from a slate of eight candidates. With a voter turnout of almost 82%, the top two finishers were the FRETILIN Party candidate Francisco “Lu-olo” Guterres, who received 28% of the vote, and Jose Ramos-Horta, who received 22% of the vote after stepping down as Prime Minister to run as an independent candidate with the endorsement of former President Xanana Gusmao. In the runoff election on May 9, required because the electoral law specifies that a candidate must win a majority, Ramos-Horta won by a landslide, receiving 69% of the vote. The presidential elections experienced some procedural glitches, but were largely free of violence and significant irregularity.
The presidency is a mostly ceremonial position, with executive power concentrated in the office of the prime minister. The majority party in parliament normally determines the next prime minister. With the support of UNMIT and international donors, the Government of TimorLeste held parliamentary elections on June 30, 2007. Observers agree that the elections were generally free and fair. FRETILIN won the most seats in parliament, but no single party won a majority and the various parties did not agree to form a national unity government. On August 6, 2007, President Ramos-Horta asked Xanana Gusmao, the leader of a coalition with a majority of the seats in the parliament (the Alliance with a Parliamentary Majority or AMP), to form a government. Gusmao was sworn in as Prime Minister along with most of the other ministers in the new government on August 8, 2007. Although the June elections proceeded in a largely peaceful atmosphere, violent disturbances broke out in several areas of Dili and the eastern districts of Baucau and Viqueque when the president announced the formation of a new government as FRETILIN partisans took to the streets to protest that they had not been given an opportunity to form a government. The unrest subsided within days, but the affected areas remained tense for several weeks thereafter and FRETILIN continues to assert that the AMP government is unconstitutional although it participates actively in the work of the national parliament.
FRETILIN's peaceful handover of power to the AMP government represents a significant milestone in Timor-Leste's political development. Upon taking office, the AMP government put the problems of the internally displaced persons, the petitioners, and other issues flowing from the crisis of 2006 at the top of its policy agenda. After obtaining parliamentary approval for a transitional 2007 budget and the fiscal year 2008 budget, the AMP launched its National Recovery Strategy in December 2007. The National Recovery Strategy consists of five pillars that aim to give substance to its name, “Building the Future Together” (Hamutuk Hari’i Futuru):
- Building Homes Together, or return and resettlement of IDPs;
- Building Protection Together, or provision of social welfare support to vulnerable groups;
- Building Stability Together, or creating an atmosphere of stability for the return of the IDPs and resolution of the claims of the petitioners, among other issues;
- Building Social Economy Together, or promotion of economic development;
- Building Trust Together, or promotion of trust-building between the people and the government through community dialogue, and engagement with youth groups.
In November and December 2007 the Government of Timor-Leste hosted several visits by high-level UN officials, including Under Secretary for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and a delegation from the UN Security Council, all of whom urged Timorese leaders to work together to tackle pressing issues in a coordinated way in the national interest.
On February 11, 2008 followers of former military police commander and fugitive Alfredo Reinado attacked President Ramos-Horta. Ramos-Horta sustained gunshot injuries and was airlifted to Darwin, Australia, where he is recuperating. Prime Minister Gusmao escaped unharmed after his bodyguards thwarted a separate attack against him the same day. The president's bodyguards killed Reinado. The national parliament imposed a state of emergency, which it has since extended, while the government seeks to apprehend the attackers. World leaders and the UN Security Council immediately condemned these attacks against Timor-Leste′s democratically elected leaders.
Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 2/1/2008
President: Jose RAMOS-HORTA
Prime Minister: Kay Rala Xanana GUSMAO
First Dep. Prime Min.: Jose Luis GUTERRES
Min. for Agriculture, Fisheries, & Forestry:
Min. for Development: Joao GONCALVES
Min. for Education: Joao CANCIO
Min. for Finance: Emilia PIRES
Min. for Foreign Affairs: Zacarias DA COSTA
Min. for Health: Nelson MARTINS
Min. for Infrastructure: Pedro LAY
Min. for Justice: Lucia LOBATO
Min. for Social Solidarity:
Min. for State Admin.: Arcangelo LEITE
Min. for Tourism, Commerce, & Industry: Gil da Costa ALVES
Ambassador to the US:
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Nelson SANTOS
Timor-Leste maintains an embassy at 4201 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (telephone: 202-966-3202). Timor-Leste Government website: http://www.timor-leste.gov.tl/.
As the poorest nation in Asia, TimorLeste faces daunting challenges. Basic income, health, and literacy indicators are among the lowest in Asia. Severe shortages of trained and competent personnel to staff newly established executive, legislative, and judicial institutions hinder progress. Rural areas, lacking in infrastructure and resources, remain brutally poor, and the relatively few urban areas cannot provide adequate jobs for the country's growing labor force. Many cities, including the country's second largest, Baucau, lack routine electrical service. Rural families’ access to electricity and clean water is very limited. Unemployment and underemployment combined are estimated to be as high as 70%. While revenues from offshore oil and gas reserves offer great hope for the country, effective use of those resources will require a major transformation of the country's current human and institutional infrastructure.
Timor-Leste has made significant progress in a number of areas since independence. It has become a full-fledged member of the international community, joining the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In July 2005, parliament unanimously passed a law creating a petroleum fund to effectively manage and invest oil revenues to ensure these funds are invested in the country's development after exploitation of these resources ends. While a nascent legal system has been put into place, the justice system remains among the weakest performing sector of government, still unable to perform its most basic functions without substantial assistance by outside professionals. Efforts are underway to put in place the institutions required to protect human rights, rebuild the economy, create employment opportunities, and reestablish essential public services.
Timor-Leste joined the United Nations on September 27, 2002. It is pursuing membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2005. Timor-Leste's foreign policy has placed a high priority on its relationships with Indonesia; regional friends such as Malaysia and Singapore; and donors such as Australia, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and Portugal.
Relations Between Indonesia and TimorLeste
Timor-Leste and Indonesia have full diplomatic relations. In 2005 Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yud-hoyono visited Timor-Leste, including the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili where Indonesian troops had massacred hundreds of Timorese in 1991. Yudhoyono prayed and laid a heart-shaped wreath at the cemetery, symbolizing the improving ties between the two nations. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated parts of Indonesia, the Government of Timor-Leste contributed humanitarian assistance to the victims. Likewise, the Indonesian Government sent humanitarian assistance to help those displaced by the unrest in Dili in 2006. After assuming office in May 2007, President Ramos-Horta traveled to Jakarta for his first state visit abroad. When former President Suharto died in January 2008, Prime Minister Gusmao and other senior officials traveled to Indonesia to pay their respects.
In 2005, both nations created a bilateral Truth and Friendship Commission (TFC) in order “to establish the conclusive truth in regard to the events prior to and immediately after the popular consultation in 1999, with a view to promoting reconciliation and friendship, and ensuring the non-recurrence of similar events.” The United States has encouraged both Indonesia and Timor-Leste to ensure that the TFC achieves a credible outcome and that the TFC process is transparent, holds public hearings, has international participation, and names the names of those individuals who perpetrated the serious crimes. Respected international human rights groups, however, have criticized the TFC because its limited terms of reference for achieving these ends do not provide for prosecutions or similar measures to achieve accountability, and because the TFC has made no clear progress to date.
Timor-Leste maintains an embassy in Washington, DC, as well as a Permanent Mission in New York at the United Nations. The United States has a large bilateral development assistance program—$20.6 million in fiscal year 2007—and also contributes funds as a major member of a number of multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The U.S. Peace Corps has operated in Timor-Leste since 2002, but it suspended operations in May 2006 due to the unrest and instability.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Last Updated: 2/19/2008
DILI (E) Av.de Portugal, Pantai Kelapa, Dili, East Timor, APO/FPO American Embassy-Jakarta, Unit 8129, Box D, FPO AP 96520; Official Pouch 8250 Dili Place, Washington, D.C. 20521-8250, (670) 332-4684, Fax (670) 331-3206, Workweek: 8:00 am-5:00 pm.
|AMB OMS:||Kim Stockdale|
|POL ECO:||Roberto Quiroz|
|AMB:||Hans G Klemm|
|ICASS:||Chair Henry Rector|
|MLO:||MAJ Ronald D. Sargent|
Consular Information Sheet
September 12, 2007
Country Description: Occupying 5,743 square miles on the eastern half of an island in the Timor Sea between Indonesia and Australia, Timor-Leste has a population of approximately 925,000 people. Timor-Leste became independent on May 20, 2002, and is now a democratically governed, independent nation with an elected President and Parliament.
In the violence that followed Timor-Leste's 1999 independence referendum, the country's infrastructure, never robust, was totally destroyed and has been only partially rebuilt. In April 2006 violence erupted again in and around the capital, Dili, resulting in further damage to infrastructure and setting back economic growth. Electricity, telephone and telecommunications, roads and lodging remain unreliable, particularly outside of the capital. Timor-Leste's economy relies largely on international assistance and revenues from oil and gas production.
Entry Requirements: A passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of departure from Timor-Leste is required. Tourist visas are not required prior to arrival, but travelers arriving in Timor-Leste without a visa will need to pay a $30 fee for the 30-day visa. There is an additional fee for each 30-day renewal of this tourist visa. Visitors traveling via air must transit either Darwin, Australia or Bali, Indonesia en route to Timor-Leste. Visit the Government of Timor-Leste's web site at http://www.timor-leste.gov.tl/ for the most current visa information.
Safety and Security: The Department of State has issued a Travel Warning urging Americans to defer travel to Timor-Leste. On May 30, 2006 the Department of State ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency American employees at U.S. Embassy Dili. This order was lifted on July 14, 2006. On May 8, 2006 the Peace Corps announced the suspension of its operations in Timor-Leste.
Timor-Leste's state institutions comprising the security sector remain fragile, and the country depends upon international police and security forces to assist in the maintenance of public security. Timor-Leste has experienced successive outbreaks of politically related civil unrest, and the risk of such violent unrest continues. When demonstrations in April 2006 protesting the Government's dismissal of 595 members of the armed forces escalated into rioting, civil order in and around the capital Dili broke down. Opposing factions within the security forces and the national police clashed, and wide-spread gang violence swept the capital. Tens of thousands of Timorese fled the violence and settled in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Government asked Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Portugal to send in security forces to assist in restoring order. At the Government's request, the UN Security Council extended its mission in Timor-Leste. On August 25, 2006, the UN Security Council approved a new expanded mission (the UN Integrated Mission for Timor-Leste, or UNMIT) providing for a policing component of up to 1,608 personnel. A separate military peacekeeping force also remains under Australian leadership. For more information on UNMIT, consult http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unmit. The Timorese national police (PNTL) in Dili were disbanded and are being reconstituted under UNMIT guidance.
As of August 2007, with about 1,100 Australian-led security forces in place and a UN Police contingent of just over 1,600, authorities have made some progress toward restoring public security. Although Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held in a largely peaceful manner from April to June 2007, sporadic violence erupted in August after the President announced the formation of a new government. International forces, alongside members of the National Police of Timor-Leste, contained the violence and activities have returned to normal.
Gang violence in Dili is less widespread than it was during the period from May to October 2006. Nevertheless, criminal violence remains more pervasive than it was prior to April 2006. While the over-whelming majority of gang-related criminal violence has been Timorese on Timorese, foreigners have been caught up in such violence and there were credible reports of anti-Western attacks, most recently during a surge of violence in Dili in and Baucau in August 2007. About 28,000 internally displaced persons remain in camps in and around Dili, several of which have been sites of recurring incidents of violence.
Americans are advised that international security officials and UN police occasionally establish security checkpoints along roads. These legitimate checkpoints are intended to enhance security and should be respected. There are also occasional illegal checkpoints which Americans should avoid, but which to date have been primarily targeted at Timorese. Americans traveling in Timor-Leste should remember that despite its small size, much of the territory is isolated and can be difficult to reach by available transportation or communication links.
American citizens who choose to travel to or remain in Timor-Leste should use common sense and exercise caution, avoid large gatherings, and remain alert with regard to their personal security, avoiding travel after dark to the extent possible. Americans should exercise caution with respect to all threats, especially in public places including, but not limited to, clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, places of worship, outdoor recreational events, hotels, resorts and beaches and other locations frequented by foreigners. Travelers and residents should always ensure that passports and important personal papers are in order in the event it becomes necessary to leave the country quickly for any reason. Likewise, travelers should be aware that the U.S. Embassy in Dili is not able to issue emergency passports and has only limited capacity to process passport renewals.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
Crime: Crimes such as pick pocketing, residential and automobile break-ins and theft occurs throughout the country, but are more frequent in Dili, the capital. Victims who resist may be subject to physical violence. Gang related violence occurs, and has targeted foreign nationals. Stone-throwing attacks on vehicles are common, and have resulted in serious injury and death. Visitors should avoid travel at night or in unfamiliar areas alone. Women should avoid traveling alone, especially at night because sexual assault or banditry is possible. Timor-Leste is a socially conservative country, and travelers should avoid wearing revealing clothing, particularly in crowded public areas such as markets.
Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Medical Facilities and Health Information: Although limited emergency medical care is available in Dili, options for routine medical care throughout the country are extremely limited. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to Australia, the nearest point with acceptable medical care, or to the United States, can cost thousands of dollars.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's I internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Timor-Leste is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
All traffic operates on the left side of the road, and most vehicles use right-hand drive. Roads are often poorly maintained and four-wheel drive may be required in some areas. Non-existent lighting and poor road conditions make driving at night hazardous.
Taxis are available in Dili, but their number has declined significantly since the security crisis that began in April 2006. Small buses and minivans provide public transportation in Dili and elsewhere. However, public transportation is generally overcrowded, uncomfortable, and below international safety standards. Public transportation has also been known to unexpectedly drop passengers at locations other than their destination due to transit operators’ fears about certain areas or hours. Disagreement about fares has occasionally led to hostilities.
Driving in Dili is especially hazardous, with large trucks and military vehicles sharing the streets with vendors, pedestrians and livestock. Many cars and especially motorcycles operate at night without lights. During the rainy season, travel on all cross-island roadways should be considered to be risky. U.S. citizens should use caution when traveling on the cross-island roadways in the mountain areas of Aileu, Ermera, Manatuto, Ainaro and Manufahi provinces. In December 2003, rain showers severely damaged several cross-island roadways, and several UN vehicles had to be airlifted out of the area south of Aileu due to landslides and roadway damage.
Accidents are frequent. When there is an accident, the police should be contacted. It is not uncommon for bystanders to attack the driver perceived to be responsible for a traffic accident. This is more common in rural areas and in accidents involving Timorese drivers, but crowds have occasionally attacked expatriate drivers at the scene of an accident. If a U.S. citizen involved in an accident reasonably believes that there is a threat of bodily harm from people at the scene of the accident, it is advisable to drive to the police station or U.S. Embassy before stopping.
While it is possible to obtain insurance for vehicles in Timor-Leste, only a handful of foreigners have done so, and virtually no one else has automobile insurance. Most traffic accidents are settled informally between those involved.
Visit the web site of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.timor-leste.gov.tl.
Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Timor-Leste, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Timor-Leste's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.
Special Circumstances: TimorLeste remains in a state of transition. The country faces severe capacity constraints and many civil and governmental institutions are still being developed. U.S. citizens traveling or doing business in Timor-Leste may find it difficult to identify legal or administrative mechanisms should problems arise.
The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Timor-Leste. Money can be exchanged at the three banks in Dili, but only to or from a limited number of currencies. Only a few establishments accept credit cards, usually requiring a substantial additional fee, and visitors should be prepared to settle all bills in cash. Dili has two ATM machines that accept U.S.-issued bankcards. Travelers should not plan to rely exclusively on these machines, as they are frequently inoperative.
Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Timor-Leste's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Timor-Leste are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Timor-Leste are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Timor-Leste. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida de Portugal, Praia dos Coqueiros, Dili, Timor-Leste, tel: (670) 332-4684, fax: (670) 331-3206.
September 12, 2007
This Travel Warning is being updated to inform Americans of continued potential for violence in Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor) and to warn American citizens to defer travel to Timor-Leste at this time. Americans currently in Timor-Leste should evaluate carefully their safety and security situation in light of this Travel Warning. This supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2007.
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens of the continuing potential for violent civil unrest in TimorLeste. U.S. citizens should defer travel to Timor-Leste at this time. Those already in Timor-Leste should exercise extreme caution and maintain a high level of security awareness while moving about in Dili; be alert to the potential for violence; and avoid demonstrations, large gatherings, and areas where disturbances have occurred. Demonstrations can occur at or near symbols and institutions of the Government of Timor-Leste, including government buildings and houses belonging to prominent politicians. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Since April 2006, Timor-Leste has experienced outbreaks of politically-related civil unrest, and the risk of further violent unrest continues. Although parliamentary elections were held in a largely peaceful atmosphere in June, violent disturbances broke out in several areas of Dili and in the Eastern districts of Baucau and Viqueque after the President's August 6, 2007, announcement of the new government. A UN convoy traveling from Baucau to Viqueque was ambushed by rock throwers. Private, diplomatic, and UN vehicles also have been pelted with rocks throughout Dili. Areas affected included Dili's international airport and its surroundings, disrupting access to and from the airport. Violence has occurred in the areas around internally displaced persons camps near the Comoro market and Bairo Pite, and could erupt again without warning. American citizens passing through these areas should exercise caution. Americans remaining in Timor-Leste despite this warning should monitor the media for updates on the safety and security situation, and check the status of flights before traveling to the airport.
After the collapse of civil order in April and May 2006, international troops and police arrived. The security situation improved, but serious security concerns remain.
Indiscriminate communal violence continues throughout the country. Gang-related violence occurs often in Dili, and Americans risk intentional or inadvertent injury. Stone-throwing attacks on vehicles are frequent, and have affected American citizens on several occasions.
Several areas of Dili have become sites of chronic security incidents, particularly around the camps for internally displaced persons. Americans are advised to avoid these areas and check with the U.S. Embassy regarding other areas of concern.
Sexual assaults against foreign nationals have occurred. Female travelers are advised to exercise particular caution and to avoid travel alone on foot or in taxis, especially at night and in unfamiliar or isolated areas.
Criminal violence remains a problem. Criminals continue to operate illegal checkpoints in some areas of Dili, frequently stopping taxis and minibuses to extort money from drivers and passengers. In some cases, Timorese are identified for more violent targeting. American citizens are advised against using taxis or minibuses for transportation.
The Government of Australia has advised its citizens against travel to East Timor, and warns that Australians and Australian interests may be specifically targeted. Attackers could indiscriminately target foreigners, including Americans. The Australian travel advice can be viewed at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/East_Timor. Americans in Timor-Leste should immediately register at the U.S. Embassy and obtain all recent messages sent to the American community in Timor-Leste. The U.S. Embassy in Dili can be reached at 670-332-4684 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time or the duty officer outside business hours at 670-723-0949. The U.S. Embassy is located on Avenida de Portugal in the Pantai Kelapa area. U.S. citizens living in or traveling to Timor-Leste can also register through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov/, where the current Worldwide Cautions, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found. Travelers should also consult the Department of State’ latest Country Specific Information for Timor-Leste. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada. Callers outside of the United States and Canada may call a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except on U.S. federal holidays).