Timor is one of the Sunda Islands, with a surface area of 30,000 square kilometres, situated 500 kilometres to the north of Australia. East Timor, covering an area of 16,000 square kilometres, is the eastern part of this island with a population of close to one million inhabitants (in 2004).
In 1975, during the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal, the latter, which had been controlling Timor, abandoned the territory. Neighbouring Indonesia took advantage of this vacancy of authority to subjugate East Timor, making it its twenty-seventh province, in an authoritarian way.
The inhabitants of Timor were forced to adopt the Indonesian language and the Islamic faith whereas they were Catholics. As they started organizing resistance, East Timor became the ground of military operations, bloody suppression and even massacres.
Indonesian occupation thus went on for close to a quarter of a century without the international community showing any particular concern. According to some international authoritative sources, the number of people believed to have been killed or reported missing during this long terrifying episode stands at about 250,000, more than one quarter of the civilian population of Timor. The Indonesians, on their part, lost 20,000 soldiers.
Self-determination of East Timor
In 1999, following political changes in Indonesia, East Timor was granted the right of self-determination and a referendum was organized. 98 % of the population voted for independence. Enraged by this unequivocal score, Indonesian militiamen once more took to looting and killing on the territory.
In autumn of the same year, the UN finally decided to intervene and deployed a total of 10,000 peacekeepers in the conflict area. These UN troops took control of the capital, Dili, which had fallen into ruin. East Timor was temporary put under UN administration, with the name UNTAET.
On May 20, 2002, the independence of East Timor was finally proclaimed.
Le rôle de la France
It was in September 1999 that France, pursuant to UN resolution 1264, started supporting peacekeeping forces present in East Timor, within the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET).
Under the banner of Operation “Santal”, France deployed 600 men, delivered humanitarian aid, under emergency conditions, transported and escorted refugees as well as protected supply convoys.
An airlifted surgical detachment was installed to provide first aid to the civilian population. The unit carried out several thousands of consultations and several hundreds of surgical operations.
The French humanitarian mission in East Timor ended on September 15, 2001.