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East Timor flag history

Last modified: 2023-12-09 by zachary harden
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Colonial penetration relatively small (the Portuguese government even considers in the early 1900ies trading East Timor for “something better”); the usual Portuguese flags used in forts and factories; equivalent Spanish flags in the domination period (1580-1640); possibly also Dutch colonial flags. Local flags unknown to me.
António Martins, 21 Sep 2001


Colonial penetration strengthened; in 1912, treaties with the Netherlands settle the current borderline; native’s “obedience” is achieved by means of force and by the services of the Dominican Order — thus contemporary Portuguese military flags and Dominican flags may have been used. Along with the other Portuguese colonies, in 1935 East Timor is granted arms, and in 1967 a colonial flag proposal is created. An independentist organization is reported to have been active in the early 1960ies. Colonial domination enforced usually by gaining the loyalty of local tribal chieftains — thus local tribal flags may have existed.
António Martins, 21 Sep 2001

East Timor was before 1974 a forgotten colony, with a small military contingent of Portuguese troops. It was used mostly as a penal colony, and several political prisoners where exiled there. However, if we except the major cities (Díli, Baucau and a few more) the Portuguese presence was hardly noticeable and in the mountains of the centre of the island the Timorese mostly ruled themselves with the exception of religious issues, since the catholic church had a strong presence there. It was for most of the time a peaceful territory. The last noticeable revolt against Portuguese rule happened still in the XIX century.
Jorge Candeias, 08 May 2000


In 1974 there was a revolution in Portugal that ended 48 years of fascist-corporativist dictatorship. One of the main objectives of the military movements that opened way for the revolution was the end of the colonial wars that were taking place in 3 of the Portuguese colonies (Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique) and to begin the process of negotiations to prepare the independences of all colonies, thus accepting the UN resolutions on the subject.
Jorge Candeias, 08 May 2000


After the revolution, negotiations started in all the colonies, but East Timor was again somewhat forgotten. The effort centered mostly in the rich African colonies of Angola, Mozambique and to some extent Guinea-Bissau / Cape Verde, and in Portugal itself the situation was very fluid and tense. In 1975 the country was one step away from a full scale civil war.

East Timor was a problem. The Indonesians insisted that East Timor should not become independent. Portugal had little interest in the colony and the Timorese where mostly on their own, again. The FRETILIN and the UDT were created, the first Marxist and fighting for independence and the second pro-West and aspiring for an autonomy within a democratic Portugal. Indonesia created the APODETI, at first a tiny movement of integrationists in Indonesia.

Negotiations took place with all parties, but they where mostly unproductive, and, trying to exert pressure on Portugal, the FRETILIN (the strongest of the movements at the time) decided to proclaim unilaterally the DRET, Democratic Republic of East Timor, not before some warnings that something of the sort might happen. The flag adopted was the black and yellow arrowhead on a red field.

But the situation went out of control as the UDT didn’t accept the proclamation of the DRET and a low-intensity civil war started. The Portuguese troops left the island and retreated to the island of Ataúro with orders to not get involved in the fighting. The FRETILIN was by far the larger movement and the best organized and soon seemed to win the war. The DRET was never recognized by the UN (because negotiations were taking place), nor by the vast majority of world countries.

In the meanwhile Indonesia wasn’t asleep. They had their known opposition against an independent East Timor, and when they understood that that was on the way, and a Marxist one for that matter, they decided to act. So, two days after checking with the American secretary of state in Jakarta and apparently getting American blessing, Indonesian troops invaded the territory. The rest of the story is macabre and well known.
Jorge Candeias
, 08 May 2000


East Timor’s status remained by international law as a territory with a pending decolonization process, still nominally under Portuguese administration, though Indonesia managed to convince a few of it’s closest friends, such as Australia, to recognize the annexation.
Jorge Candeias, 08 May 2000

During this period, locally used flags are of two main kinds: resistance movement’s and occupation authorities’ — no local Indonesian flag known. Abroad, the territory is mostly symbolized by the DRET flag; sometimes, ad hoc flag surrogates are used instead.
António Martins, 21 Sep 2001


The administration of the territory passes to UN hands not without troubles. Three successive international entities rule East Timor: UNAMED, INTERFET and UNTAET, though only the second used its own specific flag. Indonesian integrationists use exclusively the merah puti and independentists rally around resistance flags, either Fretilin/DRET flags or Falintil/CNRT flags. Though quasi official status is given to the CNRT flag, the future independent East Timor flag remains obscure.
António Martins, 21 Sep 2001


Following the (overwhelming) victory of FRETILIN in the parliamentary elections, the constitutional assembly restored all the symbols from the 1975 independence, including the flag.
Jorge Candeias, 20 May 2002

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