Sunday, 13 January 2013

Independence days: the new nation of Timor-Leste

Young people watch the sunset at Dili seafront
© Andy Brown/2012/Timor-Leste
I’d only vaguely heard of Timor-Leste (or East Timor) before I went there last August. The tiny former Portuguese colony of just over a million people is most famous as the first new nation of the century. It achieved independence in 2002 after a long and bloody struggle with Indonesia, which invaded after the Portuguese left. The BBC describes the subsequent rebuilding of Timor-Leste as “one of the UN’s biggest success stories” so it was fascinating to visit with UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund.

For the first time, I was working on what was essentially an army base. The office was a series of portacabins in a large fenced-off compound, next to a giant satellite dish. We shared our area with the other UN agencies, but the canteen and other facilities were on the peacekeeper’s base. Here, many of the buildings were in fact shipping containers with a few doors and windows, stacked on top of each other in much the same way as those at the nearby cargo port.