Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 1 News List

East Timor leader critically wounded

CASUALTIES Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and one of his men were killed in the attack on the residence of President Ramos-Horta, who is being treated in an Australian hospital


Rebel soldiers shot and critically wounded East Timor's president and opened fire on the prime minister yesterday in a failed coup attempt in the recently independent nation. A top rebel leader was killed during one of the attacks.

East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace laureate, was injured in the stomach. He was flown to a hospital in Australia in an induced coma, breathing through a ventilator, a spokesman for the company that airlifted him out of East Timor said.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped an attack on his motorcade unhurt.

Army spokesman Major Domingos da Camara said rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and one of his men were killed in the attack on the home of Ramos-Horta, while one of the president's guards also died.

"I consider this incident a coup attempt against the state by Reinado and it failed," Gusmao said.

He called it a well-planned operation intended to "paralyze the government and create instability."

"This government won't fall because of this," he said.

As night fell, the government ordered a curfew in the capital, Dili, until dawn and the UN said road blocks had been set up on roads leading out of the seaside city.

The attacks plunged the tiny country into fresh uncertainty after the firing of 600 mutinous soldiers in 2006 triggered unrest that killed 37 people, displaced more than 150,000 others and led to the collapse of the government.

Reinado was one of several army commanders who joined the mutiny. While most have returned home, Reinado and an unknown number of armed supporters had remained in hiding, refusing pleas to surrender.

Australia announced it would send scores more soldiers to the international peacekeeping force it currently heads in the country, bringing total troop levels to around 1,000. The neighboring nation also pledged more police officers for the 1,400 strong UN-led force already there.

"Someone out there tried to assassinate the political leadership of our friend, partner and neighbor," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said. "They have asked for some help, and we are about to provide it."

Ramos-Horta underwent surgery at an Australian army hospital in East Timor before being flown to the northern Australian city of Darwin for further treatment, said Ian Badham, a spokesman for medical evacuation service CareFlight International. Badham said Ramos-Horta was in critical condition, on a ventilator and "in an induced coma."

Two cars carrying rebel soldiers passed Ramos-Horta's house on the outskirts of the capital, Dili, at around 7am and began shooting, da Camara said. The guards returned fire, he said. Reinado, former head of the military police, took part in the attack and was killed.

Reinado was to go on trial in absentia for his alleged role in several deadly shootings between police and military units during the violence in 2006. He was briefly arrested but broke out of jail later the same year and had since evaded capture.

Despite the outstanding charges, Ramos-Horta had met with Reinado on several occasions in recent months to try to persuade him to surrender.

The attack on Gusmao's car was led by another rebel commander, Gustao Salsinha, said one of Gusmao's bodyguards, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Australian-led troops restored calm following the 2006 turmoil and Ramos-Horta was elected president in peaceful elections held in May last year. Low-level violence has continued in the country of 1 million people since then.

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