Australian-led peacekeepers hunt for rebels in East Timor
Questions about new nation's security and the effectiveness of international peacekeepers surface after two recent assassination attempts.
An Australian-led peacekeeping force began hunting Thursday for rebel soldiers suspected in assassination attempts on East Timor's president and prime minister, both of whom were attacked Monday. The attempts on the lives of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao highlight the nation-building challenges faced by East Timor, Asia's newest country.Skip to next paragraph
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Soldiers, helicopters, and armored vehicles have been searching the scrub outside the capital, Dili, for the suspects, the BBC reported. Australian doctors said Mr. Ramos-Horta, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning against Indonesia's occupation, was stable, recovering from gunshot wounds. But he remains in serious condition. Ramos-Horta was attacked by about 10 men near his home as he returned from a morning walk, officials said. His guards fired back, killing rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and one of his followers. Mr. Gusmao was unhurt in a separate attack Monday.
The Associated Press reports that East Timor has extended a state of emergency imposed after the shooting. Gusmao asked parliament for the 10-day extension, saying it was "in the interests of the people," so they could, "live in peace and normalcy." Lawmakers agreed to the emergency order, which bans demonstrations, gives police extended powers, and imposes a nighttime curfew. A United Nations force has been in East Timor since a wave of street violence in mid-2006.
East Timor's neighbors, Australia, Japan, and Indonesia, have been increasingly concerned about the stability of the six-year-old nation. Civil war followed Portugal's abrupt decolonization in 1975 and caused a flood of refugees to cross the border into Indonesia, giving it the pretext to begin an invasion and a 24-year occupation. In 1999, East Timor voted to break from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored plebiscite, and the country has been under UN tutelage ever since.
In the wake of this week's attacks, Australia has pledged to bolster its military deployment and Japan has considered sending its coast guard personnel, reports Australia's The Age. That comes amid questions about the UN, the international military force, and East Timorese government's lapse in security, such as why a rebel leader and his gang were allowed to roam the country for months, reports The New York Times.
Mr. Reinado's supporters, involved in the 2006 unrest, are thought to have carried out Monday's attacks. Reinado, a former military officer, had been on the run with a group of followers for almost two years. In 2006, foreign media blamed Reinado for sparking the wave of violence two years ago after he and his supporters deserted the Army, triggering clashes that killed 37 people and led to the collapse of East Timor's postindependence government. Reinado was charged with murder over the events, but he retained his folk-hero status among some of East Timor's unemployed and disenchanted youth.
At his funeral in Dili this week, hundreds of supporters gathered, trying to make sense of the recent attacks, The Australian reports.