Monday, August 31, 2009

The Birth of a Nation - Ten Years After

August 30, 1999 is a historic day in Timorese history. Ten years ago, the people voted to break-away from Indonesia. Portugal had given the Timorese people their independence in the mid-1970's. Nine days after independence from Portugal, Indonesia invaded and occupied the country for 24 years.

It was a hard fought independence. It's estimated that 100,000 people lost their lives from fighting, disease and starvation during that quarter century of Indonesian-occupation.

After the referendum in 1999, the Indonesian Army and its militias went on a rampage -- infrastructure was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people fled. Some 14-hundred people were killed before UN peacekeepers arrived.

Last evening, thousands of people crowded into the area around the seaside Government Palace to celebrate the anniversary. It was an orderly crowd. Lots of families and small children. Timor's birth rate has exploded since independence. It's not unusual for some couples to have six or seven children. Birth rate was controlled during Indonesian times.

Ironically, on the stage last night for the evening of performances was a famous Indonesian singer. She received a warm welcome. I asked several Timorese if they thought it was a bit odd that Indonesians would be involved in such a celebration and most shrugged their shoulders. Despite what happened, Timorese don't seem to hold any animosity toward their neighbors.

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