World’s Newest Country is Newest Peace Corps Program

DILI, EAST TIMOR, May 24, 2002—On behalf of the Peace Corps, U.S. Charge d’Affaires to East Timor, Shari Villarosa signed a bilateral country agreement with Dr. Jose Ramos Horta, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of East Timor, opening the Peace Corps program in East Timor. The signing took place this morning in the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dili, East Timor.

Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez stated, “The bilateral agreement signed today reflects the strong interest the new East Timor government has taken in hosting Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corps looks forward to sending volunteers to live and work with the people of East Timor.”

In his February 15, 2002 remarks, following the swearing in of Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez, President George W. Bush announced his commitment to sending volunteers to East Timor, noting it would soon become the first country to gain independence in the 21st century. Earlier this year, President Bush pledged to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers serving in countries around the world and to expand the reach of their talents and compassion into more countries.

East Timor declared its independence and became the world’s newest nation on May 20, 2002, after centuries of colonization by Portugal, 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and almost three years of United Nations administration. The Peace Corps agreement was among the first bilateral country agreements to be signed.

The Peace Corps anticipates initial projects in community health and local governance. The first twenty volunteers are currently serving in the Peace Corps and were selected to transfer to East Timor in mid-June. The volunteers were chosen from 12 other countries to provide immediate support to the nascent program in East Timor. The second group of volunteers to East Timor will begin their training in 2003.

Peace Corps staff visited East Timor in October 2001 and began planning for an entry. Peace Corps staff are currently in Dili, East Timor, preparing for the arrival of the first group of volunteers in June.

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