• Short Summary

    The political future of the Portuguese colony of Timor changed virtually overnight following the military coup in Lisbon in April.

  • Description

    The political future of the Portuguese colony of Timor changed virtually overnight following the military coup in Lisbon in April.

    Until the change of government the colony's population of 600,000 were under strict press censorship; they were denied the right to strike, and the right to form political parties. The new freedoms came with startling suddenness before anyone really had time to prepare.

    After 450 years of Portuguese occupation, the bulk of the people still lead a primitive life -- farming land badly scarred by erosion which followed the stripping of the island's sandalwood forests by Portuguese and Dutch traders. Others live by what they can take from the sea, living in fishing villages that dot the coastline.

    Portuguese Timor is the north-east half of the island, lying north-east of Australia and close to Indonesia which controls the other half of the island.

    The colony's main cash crop is coffee, with smaller quantities of rubber and copra being exported. But exports are still outweighed by imports and Portugal has had to subsidise the colony heavily.

    The administrator is Colonel Fernando Alves Aldeia, who stayed on as Governor after the Lisbon coup. He sees education as the people's primary need and has worked to increase the level of student enrolment dramatically. The Governor's residence and offices are in the capital, Dilli, a city of 20,000, where the army is very much in evidence. There are about 4,000 troops -- half Portuguese, half Timorese -- who patrol the city regularly.

    Now that the political shackles have been removed, the colony's first political parties are being organised. There will be elections in March next year under new electoral laws to be published before the end of the year. After the elections, the parties will be asked to submit their views on when a plebiscite should be held to decide the future of the province.

    For the future, the main economic hope for Portuguese Timor seems to lie in tourism. The coastline is scenic, fringed with good beaches and the island is as yet unspoiled. Already, American, Australian and Japanese companies are expressing interest in spending vast sums of money to develop the tourist industry.

    But the economic and political changes are now only just beginning. If the Portuguese Government listens to the parties now being formed, it will be several years yet before the question of independence is even put to the people.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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