East Timor launches operation against rebels

Updated on Feb 16, 2008 09:16 AM IST
East Timor's military and international forces have launched an operation against rebels hiding in hills near the capital following an assassination attempt on the country's president.
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Reuters | ByAhmad Pathoni, Dili

East Timor's military and international forces have launched an operation against rebels hiding in hills near the capital following an assassination attempt on the country's president.

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, 58, is recovering in hospital in Australia after being shot and critically wounded at his home in Dili on Monday in an attack by rebel soldiers that analysts said could spark renewed violence in the tiny nation.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped injury in another shooting, also believed to have been carried out by followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado who was killed during the attack.

"We know that residents are hiding them (rebels). We call on the people to stop protecting them because by doing so they put their lives at risk," East Timor's military chief, Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak, told a news conference.

"We call on the people to contribute to a peaceful solution to the problem. For two years they supported Alfredo, but what have they got?"

Ruak said security forces were questioning more than 30 people in relation to the attacks on the country's leaders and would start going to people's houses to look for the rebels.

He urged soldiers who were sacked in 2006 to join others who have agreed to talks with the government to address their grievances.

Reinado deserted the army in May 2006 to join about 600 former soldiers who had been sacked earlier that year. The soldiers complained that they had been discriminated against because they were from the western part of East Timor.

The soldiers' dismissal sparked protests that degenerated into a wave of violence, in which 37 people died and about 150,000 people fled from their homes.

International security forces were sent to the resource-rich but still-impoverished country to halt the ethnic fighting and clashes between rival police and the military in 2006.

The tiny nation's prosecutor-general has issued arrest warrants for 24 people suspected of involvement in Monday's attacks.

East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a UN-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence. Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation.

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