THE ISLAND OF TIMOR LIES LESS THAN four hundred miles north of Australia, at the southeastern extremity of the Indonesian Nusatenggara island group. In this archipelago, it is located at the opposite end to the island of Bali, one of Asia's best-known tourist attractions. In about the middle of the seventeenth century, Timor was divided into two almost equal parts by the Dutch (West Timor) and Portuguese (East Timor) colonial administrations. Throughout its history, East Timor remained poor, underdeveloped, remote, and unconnected to the global network of commercial and tourist communications. It had little strategic or economic importance and no political independence.
All of this promised to change in April 1974, when a cartel of Leftleaning generals overthrew the Portuguese dictator Marcelo Caetano in Lisbon. The new regime made it known that it would free the remaining scraps of Portugal's once extensive colonial empire—Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and East Timor. In anticipation of independence, two major political parties quickly emerged in East Timor—the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) and the Revolutionary Front for East Timor Independence (FRETILIN). In January 1975, the two parties formed a coalition for independence and prepared for statehood.
Unfortunately, Indonesia—East Timor's powerful neighbor—had other plans. Directed by military leaders who were determined to control East Timor, Indonesian agents sabotaged the region's peaceful progress toward independence by dividing the UDT and FRETILIN. They accomplished their divide-and-conquer plan by combining a propaganda offensive against FRETILIN with a sustained courting of UDT leaders. By May 1975, talks between the UDT and FRETILIN had broken down, and the UDT withdrew from the coalition.
Spurred by Indonesian-planted rumors that FRETILIN planned to launch a coup, the UDT launched a preemptive coup of its own in Dili in