The island of Timor is split by a strip of mountains that runs east-to-west and divides the country in two. The north coast is a generally hotter and has a more irregular climate, while the south coast boasts large plains and milder weather. The country’s highest peak is Mount Tatamailau, also known as Mount Ramelau, at 2,986 meters, followed by four other peaks, all above the 2,000-meter mark: Mount Cablaque, on the border of Ermera and Ainaro districts, Mount Meriquen and Mount Loelaco, near the border, and Mount Matebian, between Baucau and Viqueque.
Homo sapiens arrived in Timor around 42,000 years ago. The first inhabitants lived mostly from the abundant fish and shellfish, as well as plants and the few mammals on the island (mostly bats and a now-extinct species of large rat). The archaeological record also points to early contact with New Guinea, with animals like the cuscus (Phalanger orientalis) and some plants originating there, suggesting people at that time were island-hopping back and forth.
The Portuguese reached the coast of Timor around 1515. They settled at Lifau, now the enclave of Oecussi in the western half of Timor.
When World War II started, the Australians, aware of Timor’s importance as a buffer zone, landed in Dili, despite Portuguese protests. The Japanese then used the presence of the Australians as a pretext for an invasion in February 1942, staying until September 1945.
On November 28, 1975, Fretilin declared the República Democrática de Timor-Leste (RDTL). The RDTL was recognized just by a few countries, mainly former Portuguese colonies in Africa, and was short-lived. Ten days later, on December 7, 1975, Indonesian troops invaded. Some 60,000 people lost their lives in the early years of Indonesian annexation, contributing to a death toll of about 200,000 for the whole period of its administration. The seizure was condemned by Portugal and the United Nations.
An agreement on a popular consultation for Timor-Leste was finally reached in May 1999, under the auspices of then United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan and in September 1999, the people of Timor-Leste voted overwhelmingly – 78.5% — in favor of independence from Indonesia.
On August 30, 2001, Timor-Leste had its first free elections for representatives who were charged with writing a new constitution and on May 20, Timor-Leste became the world’s first new country of this millennium. (Adapted from the Timor-Leste government web site)