TOPICS > Politics

East Timor President Critically Wounded in Attack

BY Admin  February 11, 2008 at 5:20 PM EDT

East Timorese soldiers stand guard; AP photo

President Jose Ramos Horta was induced into a coma and flown
to the northern Australian city of Darwin
after being shot at his home in the East Timorese capital of Dili.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, 61, escaped an attack on his
motorcade unhurt.

Shortly after the attacks, Indonesia
tightened security at its border with tiny East Timor
to prevent rebels escaping into the Indonesian-controlled half of the island.

Army spokesman Maj. Domingos da Camara told news
organizations 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.

The manager of the Royal Darwin
Hospital said Ramos Horta,
58, had been transfused with 16 units of blood, but doctors were “hopeful
of a very good recovery.”

“He has wounds to the abdomen and lower chest. They are
very serious wounds, particularly the chest injury is extremely serious,”
Dr. Len Notaras told Reuters.

“The next 24 to 48 hours will tell us about his
progress. We are optimistic that the good surgical skills here … will mean he
will have a good chance of recovery,” Notaras said.

East Timor, a nation of 1 million people, is a former
Portugese colony that borders Indonesia
and is off the northern coast of Australia. It gained independence
in 2002, after years of Indonesian occupation.

“I consider this incident a coup attempt against the
state by Reinado and it failed,” Gusmao said, according to the Associated
Press. 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.

Gusmao urged the country to stay calm and asked the acting
president, deputy speaker of parliament Vicente Guterres, to impose a curfew in
the capital until Wednesday.

“I also appeal to the people not to spread any false
rumors and information,” he said.

The attacks plunged the 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.

Australian-led troops restored calm following the 2006
turmoil and Ramos Horta was elected president in peaceful elections held in May
2007. Low-level violence has continued in the country since then.

Deposed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has maintained that
Ramos Horta’s government is illegitimate. His political party immediately
condemned Monday’s attacks in a statement released to the media.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he would visit East Timor later in the week to inspect security after a
request from Gusmao. Australia
plans to send around 200 quick reaction troops to the country immediately,
bringing total troop levels to around 1,000. The neighboring nation also
pledged 50 to 70 more police officers to the 1,400 strong U.N.-led force
already there.

New Zealand,
which has more than 200 soldiers and police in East Timor, was putting
additional troops on standby, New
Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said.

The streets of Dili were calm Monday, witnesses told various
news organizations.

“So far there has been no big public reaction, but
there are rumors of unrest and things could become unstable quite quickly,”
one diplomat told The New York Times.

Diplomats in Dili told the Times that Ramos Horta was
returning from his customary early-morning walk, along the beach below his
house on a hillside east of the capital, when he walked into the middle of an
escalating argument between his guards and two cars full of Reinado’s men, who
began shooting.

The guards returned fire, da Camara 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.

Reinado was arrested, but he broke out of jail along with 56
other prisoners. Despite a major manhunt, he remained free, hiding in East Timor’s heavily wooded mountains.

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

Ramos Horta shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with
countryman Bishop Carlos Belo for leading a nonviolent struggle against the
Indonesian occupation.

Greg Bearup wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald about his
experience spending a week with Ramos Horta to research an article, calling him
an easy target “for anyone with a little determination.”

“The only attention he paid to his security staff was
to try to get rid of them – he hated their presence and thought it
unnecessary,” Bearup wrote. “He would send them home early, or leave
his compound without them, sometimes stopping in the countryside to walk among
his people.”