Like any cash-starved freelance photographer I had a host of reasons for not leaving the comforts of Sydney on a speculative assignment to East Timor. But acting on a challenge from a friend, I found myself booking a ticket to Darwin and a connecting flight to Dili.
What did I know about East Timor? Not a lot. I knew that East Timor is half an island northwest of Darwin and for 400 or so years had been a Portuguese colony. Lisbon’s reign ended in 1975, when Indonesia invaded and a bleak 24 years followed characterized by massacre, forced resettlement, rape, torture and starvation.
Around 200, 000 people died, more than a quarter of the population. Following the overthrow of the Suharto regime, in 1999, Indonesian President BJ Habibie offered the territory a chance to vote for its future.
With the lid lifted on long repressed independence aspirations it was no surprise that the vast majority of Timorese voted to separate from Jakarta.
Supporters of integration refused to accept the result and with the backing of Indonesian military went on a terrible rampage of destruction that left hundreds killed and 250,000 inhabitants forcibly deported across the border.
An Australian-led International force restored order and was replaced in February 2000 by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The UN mandate was due to expire on 20 May 2002, after which East Timor would be independent and I was going to witness the birth of a nation of the new millennium.

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Image detail: Gary Ramage