E Timor president wounded in attack

Australia promises more troops as Ramos-Horta leaves to undergo emergency surgery.

    Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, was elected president in May last year [EPA]

    On his arrival in Darwin, he was transferred the Royal Darwin Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was now in an induced coma.
    The Reuters news agency said he had been put on life support.
    Doctors treating him said they believed he would make a full recovery despite being hit by up to three bullets.
    "I am hopeful for his full recovery," Dr Len Notaras, general manager of the hospital, said after seeing Ramos-Horta.
    "The fact that he is in a stable condition is a good sign that we should see some reasonable outcomes for him ... He's not fighting for his life but his injuries are extremely serious."
    Ramos-Horta had undergone initial surgery in Dili.

    Australian decision


    In the wake of the attack, Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, said he had agreed to a request from the East Timorese government for more Australian troops and police to be deployed to the country in order to maintain security.


    East Timor timeline

    1975 - Former colonial power Portugal withdraws, Indonesia invades; two decades of resistance follow during which 200,000 Timorese are thought to have been killed

    1991 - Indonesian troops fire on mourners at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery, killing more than 100

    1993 - Captured resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is jailed

    1996 - Bishop Carlos Belo and resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta share Nobel Peace Prize

    1998 - Indonesia's president Suharto resigns; successor, BJ Habibie, suggests East Timor should be allowed to vote on its future

    1999 - Massive turnout votes in favour of independence from Indonesia, triggering wave of violence from pro-Indonesian militia

    2002 - East Timor declared independent with Gusmao as president

    2006 - Clashes break out after 600 troops sacked from country's armed forces; Ramos-Horta appointed PM after predecessor, Mari Alkatiri, resigns

    2007 - Ramos-Horta wins presidential election; Gusmao later appointed PM, prompting more gang violence

    "The request from East Timor is for a substantial and significant enhancement" of the some 800 Australian troops already in the troubled country on peacekeeping duties, he said.


    A "company strength" deployment of troops and up to 70 federal police will be sent as soon as practical.


    Australia is currently leading a multinational security force in the country, and has 800 troops and dozens of police stationed there.


    New Zealand also said that it has put up to 35 troops on standby to assist in East Timor if requested.


    "For there to be a co-ordinated attempt to assassinate the democratically elected leadership of a close neighbour and friend of Australia is a deeply disturbing development," Rudd said.


    Meanwhile, Gusmao said he too escaped an ambush shortly after the attack on the president's home.


    He said armed men attacked his motorcade on Monday but no one was injured.


    He said the attacks were part of a failed coup attempt.


    "Even though the state has been attacked by an armed group and the president was wounded, the state is in control of stability," Gusmao said.


    The Australian government has advised its citizens against travel to East Timor, warning that the country could be thrown into instability with a risk of violence "anywhere at any time".


    Allison Cooper, a UN spokeswoman in Dili, told Al Jazeera: "The security situation is stable but fragile.


    "There are extensive investigations going on."


    'Attacker killed'


    Alfredo Reinado, a rebel soldier who led the attack on Ramos-Horta's home, was killed as presidential guards returned fire.


    One of Ramos-Horta's guards was also killed in the shootout.


    Reinado was jailed for leading a mutiny 
    in the army in 2006 [EPA]

    Reinado was wanted on murder charges over a flare-up of violence in April and May 2006 that left 37 people dead.


    The violence was caused by a split in the military that led to some 600 soldiers - about one-third of the defence force - being sacked.

    Reinado was later jailed for leading a mutiny, but escaped from prison in September 2006 along with 50 others and has been on the run ever since.


    In November last year, Reinado threatened to use force against the government if it failed to concede to his demands.


    East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975 and was then invaded by Indonesia, whose brutal rule over the territory led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people.


    In 1999 a referendum was held on independence, triggering a wave of violence by pro-Indonesian militia.


    An Australian-led peacekeeping force restored order and the country declared independence in 2002, but East Timor has continued to be plagued by violence and gang fighting.


    Peace or chaos?


    Interviewed on Al Jazeera after the attempt on Ramos-Horta's life, Max Lane, a writer and researcher on East Timor, said: "I think on first signals there is a good chance that [political chaos] could be avoided."


    He noted that East Timor's political leaders had called for calm, unlike when fighting broke out in 2006, meaning there is greater possibility for peace.


    Lane said, however, that keeping Australian troops in East Timor could be counter-productive as resentment might build up against them from the local population.


    Instead, he advised handing security to East Timorese forces and providing more financial aid so that the underlying unrest could be quickly resolved.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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