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Published:February 11th, 2008 02:01 EST
President of East Timor survives assassination attempt

President of East Timor survives assassination attempt

By SOP newswire

The president of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, is in serious but stable condition after being shot by rebel soldiers during an attack at his home early Monday.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Mr. Ramos-Horta is being flown to Darwin for further treatment after emergency surgery at an Australian military base in Dili, East Timor's capital.

Mr. Rudd told reporters Australia has also agreed to send more troops and police to East Timor to support the democratically-elected government.

East Timor Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa says the president was shot twice in the back, with one of the bullets tearing through his abdomen, but that the wounds are not life-threatening.

Army spokesman Domingos da Camara says the president's guards killed fugitive rebel commander Alfredo Reinado during the predawn attack, and that one of the guards also was killed.

Reports from Dili say Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has gone on national radio to report that his motorcade was attacked later in the day but that - in the prime minister's words - "the attack against the state has failed."

United Nations officials in East Timor say Mr. Gusmao is safe in his office, and is in contact with U.N. officials and international peacekeepers. Correspondents in Dili say large numbers of security forces are patrolling the capital.

East Timor's foreign minister, speaking to CNN television, said Prime Minister Gusmao will take charge of the country while Mr. Ramos-Horta is in Australia.

The Timorese army spokesman, Domingos da Camara, said two cars filled with rebel gunmen arrived at the president's home before dawn today and opened fire. Reinado, who escaped from prison in August 2006, was among the attackers. He had previously threatened to lead his force of renegade soldiers against Mr. Ramos-Horta's government.

Reinado originally was jailed on charges including murder, for inciting bloody clashes between government forces and rebel ex-soldiers earlier in 2006. The violence killed 30 people and prompted 150 thousand others to flee their homes, before an Australian-led international force supported by the U.N. restored order.

In the aftermath of today's gun battle, the U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste said its police force is on high alert.

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste became an independent nation in 2002, following years of popular struggle against Indonesian forces that controlled the former Portuguese colony and a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

Mr. Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for their resistance to Indonesian forces that had controlled East Timor since 1975. East Timor broke away from Portuguese rule late in that year, but Indonesian forces invaded nine days later and later annexed the territory.

East Timor occupies about half of the island of Timor, with Indonesia controlling the remainder. The island's partition dates back to 1859, when Portugal and the Netherlands battled over the colonial territory.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.