On 20 May 2002 East Timor will become the first new independent country of the 21st century. This small Pacific Rim nation located just north of Australia is emerging from a very turbulent history but, with international assistance, the people of East Timor are facing the future with hope.
A number of Anglicans, including the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Richard Harries, have announced their support for a new trust fund created to assist Timorese students studying in the UK. The Ai-Kameli Trust has been established to assist the students to complete advanced studies. (The word Ai-Kameli means "sandalwood" in Tetum, the indigenous language of Timor.)
During the 1990's, a number of Timorese students sought political asylum in foreign embassies in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Some of these persons subsequently made their way to the UK via Portugal, and have been living there in exile.
In 1975 East Timor - formerly a Portuguese colony - was occupied by its neighbour, Indonesia. It was illegally annexed as a province of that country, and for the next 25 years, a small but determined armed Timorese movement resisted the Indonesian military occupation of their country. In August 1999, following a change of government in Indonesia that saw a softening of attitude towards Timorese autonomy, the people of East Timor were allowed to vote for independence or continued integration with Indonesia in a UN-sponsored referendum. They chose independence.
Indonesia withdrew from the territory amid scenes of chaos. Over 70 percent of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, half of the population was uprooted, and over two thousand people died. Many hundreds were driven across the border into Indonesian West Timor as hostages by pro-Indonesian Timorese militia groups. Australian and New Zealand military personnel were sent urgently to the island to restore order as part of a UN-sanctioned international force (InterFET). A transitional UN administration was established, and parliamentary and presidential elections were held to establish a Timorese government. The transitional UN administration will hand over control to the Timorese government on 20 May 2002.
Many refugees and exiles are returning to East Timor to help rebuild their country. Many of the UK-based Timorese students also wish to return to East Timor. The aim of the Ai-Kameli Trust is to help equip them with relevant knowledge and skills by sponsoring places for them at British universities and colleges.
Dr Peter Carey, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford and a co-founder of the Trust, says, "We are currently prioritising certain areas of training in our candidate selection procedures. For this current year, these are business economics, law and telecommunications and we have been able to award three full-time bursaries to students doing bachelor degrees in these fields. In the longer term - once we have done our duty to the UK-based East Timorese exile community - we will be providing support from those who will come directly from East Timor."
Bishop Harries, who is one of the founding patrons of the Trust, has warmly endorsed its work, saying, "The people of East Timor have suffered so much they deserve all the support we can give them. Education is the key to building a different society and it is so good that this Trust has been set up to further this aim."
Further information about the Ai-Kameli Trust is available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about the development of East Timor is available from:
CIIR, Unit 3, Canonbury Yard, 190A New North Road, London N1 7BJ, UK.