by MONITOR
AFTER almost fifty years as a Portuguese colony East Timor achieved its independence in November 1975 but within ten days was invaded by Indonesia which imposed a repressive regime until international pressure persuaded it to restore East Timor's independence in 1999. Since then it has not had an easy path because much of the extremism that grew in the years of resistance to the Indonesians has remained despite independence. The attacks in recent days on President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao were probably the work of remnants of the six hundred mutinous soldiers who took to the hills in 2006. Although Mr Ramos-Horta was seriously wounded, Prime Minister Gusmao received only slight injuries. As often happens in new nations, disputes over election rigging have probably led to violence; last July Mr Gusmao's party allegedly “stole” an election from the main opposition party and East Timor has been on edge since then. Australia has a strong interest in a stable East Timor and its new premier, Kevin Rudd, has acted quickly on the request of Mr Gusmao to send about 200 army and police to reinforce the existing Australian presence; an Australian frigate has been diverted to support these measures The United Nations also has a substantial peacekeeping force in East Timor. These events demonstrate how badly new nations -- East Timor is Asia's youngest -- need independent support in their early years to ensure stability and also to make sure that elections are “free and fair”.