Aileu friendship relationship

About Aileu and Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste, which became an independent nation in 2002, has a land area of approximately 15,400 square kilometres and occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor.

Timor-Leste is one of Australia’s closest and poorest neighbours, with Dili, its capital city, only 720 kilometres north-west of Darwin. The national population according to the 2015 Census was 1,167,600, a growth rate of 1.81 per cent per annum since the previous Census in 2010.

The official languages of Timor-Leste are Portuguese and Tetun, however, many people speak Indonesian and increasing numbers speak English, both of which are recognised as working languages. Apart from Tetun, there are numerous other local languages spoken at home. Aileu is a centre of the Mambai language group and a stronghold of traditional cultural values and traditions

The Aileu Municipality (formerly Aileu District) covers 730 square kilometres of a largely mountainous area inland immediately south of Dili and has a population of 48,500 (2015). The municipal centre, also named Aileu, is a small town less than 20 kilometres directly south of Dili, reached by a 45-kilometre drive through forest, farmland and coffee groves. The town of Aileu is in the Administrative Post (formerly Sub-district) of Aileu Vila. The other Administrative Posts are Laulara, Lequidoe and Remexio.

Each Administrative Post contains a number of territorial units called Sucos (villages) made up of several Aldeias (sub-villages or hamlets) comprising the houses of related family groups and the surrounding agricultural or forest land. The Sucos and Aldeias have their own elected community councils.  Traditional authority and customary arrangements also remain highly relevant to the lives of people in Timor-Leste, particularly in rural areas and at the village and sub-village levels.

Aileu is one of Timor-Leste's 13 municipalities or administrative sub-divisions (formerly called districts). The new municipalities are gradually acquiring additional service delivery and governance responsibilities as part of the decentralisation process. The Government of Timor-Leste plans over the coming years to transition the municipalities to fully responsible local government entities with elected assemblies (councils).

Over the years slash and burn agricultural activity and timber cutting for domestic cooking fuel have resulted in extensive deforestation. Deforestation was exacerbated by military activities during the Indonesian occupation, which also resulted in many villagers being relocated away from their traditional lands closer to roads. Most families rely heavily on subsistence farming, and many still have difficult or limited access to water, sanitation, electricity, health services, education and employment and alternative sources of income.

Background to the friendship relationship

The friendship relationship reflects and builds on enduring links between the people of Australia and Timor-Leste, including those developed during the Second World War when Australian Special Forces, with the support of many Timorese, resisted Japanese occupation of the then Portuguese colony. After the war, when Indonesia, including West Timor, achieved independence from the Dutch, East Timor remained a Portuguese colony.

Indonesian rule in East Timor commenced with a bloody invasion in 1975, which forced the withdrawal of the Portuguese Administration at the uncertain time of Portugal’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. The bonds of friendship with Australia were extended through the work of the solidarity movement and International NGOs during the period of Indonesian military occupation. The occupation was resisted by many Timorese, with others seeking refuge overseas, particularly in Portugal and Australia, and some attempting to co-operate with Indonesian rule.

In August 1999, during Indonesia’s own difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy, the people of Timor-Leste overwhelmingly voted against an offer of Special Autonomy status within Indonesia, thus opting for independence. Subsequently, the departing Indonesian military and their militia groups went on rampages killing and injuring thousands, forcibly relocating a large proportion of the population to Indonesian West Timor and destroying most buildings and infrastructure. These events further highlighted the plight of Timor-Leste for many Australians.

The humanitarian crisis led to the deployment of a United Nations' sponsored Australian-led peace keeping intervention to stabilise the situation. An interim period of UN administration followed, during which most of those who had been forcibly relocated returned, and a new constitution was drawn up by an elected Timor-Leste Constituent Assembly.

The involvement of Australian community members and representatives of local governments, particularly from Victoria, as observers for the 1999 independence ballot and the 2000 Constituent Assembly elections lead to moves to establish friendship relationships between Australian and Timorese communities.

Timor-Leste since independence

In May 2002 Timor-Leste finally became an independent nation recognised by the international community.  National elections for the president and parliament were held in 2007 and 2012, with the next national elections scheduled for 2017. 

In October-November 2016 nationwide elections were held for the village community councils in each of the 442 Sucos and 2,336 Aldeias (the previous such elections were in 2009).

Development of the friendship relationship

For more details see About Friends of Aileu.