December 7

This Day in History

General Interest

Dec 7, 1975:

Indonesia invades East Timor

Early in the morning, Indonesian forces launch a massive invasion of the former Portuguese half of the island of Timor, which lies near Australia in the Timor Sea.

The Portuguese departed East Timor in August 1975, and Indonesian troops soon began infiltrating the border from Indonesian West Timor. On November 28, the democratically elected government of East Timor, fearing an imminent Indonesian invasion, proclaimed the Democratic Republic of East Timor.

On the morning of December 7, Indonesia responded by initiating a naval bombardment of the city of Dili, followed by landings of paratroopers from the air and of marines on the beaches. On December 10, a second invasion force captured the second largest city, Baucau. Elsewhere, East Timorese resistance continued, but by 1978 the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia was essentially complete.

During the initial years of the Indonesian invasion and occupation, more than 100,000 East Timorese died as a direct result of the conflict. Most of the dead were civilians killed by the military or starved to death in internment camps or while hiding in the hills from the Indonesian military. Small groups of East Timorese guerrillas continued their resistance for decades. In 1996, Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to win independence for East Timor.

Indonesian dictator Suharto, who had ordered the 1975 invasion, was ousted from power in 1998, and East Timorese renewed their calls for independence. In 1999, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum, leading to bloody attacks by Indonesian militia forces. An Australian-led U.N. peacekeeping force was deployed to stop the violence, and in August 2001 East Timor held its first democratic elections to establish an autonomous government.

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