Ending The Armed Conflict In Timor-Leste

Ending The Armed Conflict In Timor-Leste

Year(s): 1999 – 2000.

Location: Timor-Leste.

UN Regional Group: Asia-Pacific.

Type of Conflict: Horizontal (non-state) Intrastate Conflict, Vertical (state-based) Intrastate Conflict with Foreign Involvement.

Type of Initiative: A military intervention. 

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The governments of Pacific states and the UN.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: A multilateral military intervention led by Australia brought an end to the armed conflict in Timor-Leste in 2000 after decades of instability and war.

Description of Case

The 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal led to the abrupt end of the Portuguese Empire and the abandonment of its colonies, including Timor-Leste. Independence was short-lived, however, as neighbouring Indonesia occupied the territory within months, despite international condemnation. In response, pro-independence Timorese guerrillas launched an insurgency.[1] The ensuing conflict lasted for over two decades, devastating the region. The collapse of the authoritarian Suharto regime in Jakarta in 1998 presented an opportunity for the conflict to be resolved and, encouraged by international calls for a plebiscite to decide Timor-Leste’s future, the new Indonesian administration requested that the UN organise a referendum for 30 August 1999. The UN Security Council established the United Nations Mission in East Timor to conduct the referendum.[2]

Almost 80 percent of the population favoured independence, however the result was contested by pro-integration militias backed by the Indonesian military. The militias launched a devastating offensive, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sparking the most violent period of the conflict to date. The eruption of violence led to international condemnation, and on 15 September the UN Security Council called for a multinational force to restore peace and security in East Timor until a follow-on UN peacekeeping mission could be established.[3] Threats by the US Government to lever sanctions on Jakarta via the IMF and World Bank forced the Government of Indonesia to end its claim on the territory and acquiesce to the deployment of a UN-sanctioned international force.[4] The Australian government led the initiative, not only providing much of the logistical and organisational infrastructure for the operation but also contributing half of the 11,500 troops of International Force East Timor (InterFET).[5] Other significant contributions were made by New Zealand and Thailand. In the ensuing five months, InterFET took control of all Timorese territory and established a safe and secure environment across the country. With its mission accomplished and the follow-up UN mission in place, InterFET handed over authority to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor on 28 February 2000.[6]


[1] Moreen Doe. “‘Coalitions of the willing’ and humanitarian intervention: Australia’s involvement with INTERFET.” International Peacekeeping, Vol. 8, No. 3. (2007) p.3

[2] Geoffrey Robinson. “With unamet in East Timor: A historian’s personal view.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 32, No. 1. (2000)

[3] United Nations Security Council. Resolution 1264. (UN, 1999) Available at: http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/1264 (Accessed 11/11/2020)

[4] Doe. “‘Coalitions of the willing’ and humanitarian intervention.” p.4

[5] Marianne Jago. “InterFET: An Account of Intervention with Consent in East Timor.” International Peacekeeping, Vol. 17, No. 3. (2010) p.386

[6] UN Peacekeeping. East Timor – UNTAET: Background. (UN, 2002) Available at: https://peacekeeping.un.org/mission/past/etimor/UntaetB.htm (Accessed 31/11/2020)