East Timor army joins hunt for rebels

(AFP)    

 
  

East Timor’s army joined the hunt for rebels blamed for attacks against the country’s top two leaders, the army chief said on Saturday.

 

Meanwhile, President Jose Ramos-Horta (pictrued above), who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for decades of peaceful resistance to Indonesian occupation, was recovering from gunshot wounds at an Australian hospital.

 

Rebels on Monday shot Ramos-Horta outside his home. His guards killed wanted militant leader Alfredo Reinado during the attack. An hour later, gunmen opened fire on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, but he escaped unhurt.

 

The East Timor Defense Force joined Australian-led foreign troops in the search for more than 30 militants hiding out in the hillside jungle outside the capital, national army chief Taur Matan Ruak told reporters on Saturday.

 

“Some people are sheltering the rebels in their homes; we have asked for permission to search them,” Ruak told reporters at a Navy base. “We don’t have the intention to kill them. The only way is to cooperate with us.”

 

Arrest warrants for 17 suspects in the attacks were issued on Friday, and prosecutors said that number was expected to increase.

 

Monday’s events were part of an ongoing dispute between the government and a group of several hundred rebels who were fired from the army in 2006 after going on strike to protest alleged discrimination. They also underscored the challenges facing East Timor’s young democracy six years after independence.

 

With the risk of escalating violence, Australia this week reinforced its presence in East Timor to more than 1,000 army and military personnel and sent a warship to waters off the coast. UN police patrolled the streets and cars were being searched for weapons under a state of emergency declared through February 23.

 

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, broke from 24 years of Indonesian occupation in 1999, when 1,500 people were killed by militias and departing Indonesian troops. After three years of UN governance, it declared independence in 2002.

 

The tiny Southeast Asian nation of a million people descended into chaos again in April 2006 when the security forces disintegrated into warring factions and the government collapsed amid widespread looting and arson.

 

Gunbattles and gang warfare killed 37 people and more than 150,000 were forced to leave their homes. Tens of thousands still live in squalid camps. (AP)

 
 
 
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