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Terrorism & Security

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.

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Observers in East Timor are also questioning the lapse in security that led to the attack. The Australian said it had received a latter from the Australian Commander of the International Stabilization Force (ISF) Brigadier John Hutcheson to Reinado's lawyer, Benny Benevides, assuring him of the rebel leader's safety. "Your client is hereby assured that, subject to his complying with any preagreed arrangements during the dialogue period, your client's movements will not be interfered with," the letter said.

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Brigadier Hutcheson wrote that the stabilization force was obliged to detain anyone seen carrying an unauthorized weapon, but it seemed Reinado had been granted an exception, "despite the fact he was a prison escapee facing murder charges."

Bloomberg also reports Australia and East Timor had been probing a rebel bid to assassinate the two leaders, quoting East Timor's Army chief as questioning how guerrillas evaded Australian-led peacekeepers.

"We are not jumping to conclusions, we are very carefully, as is the East Timorese government, working through the facts as they emerge," Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.

East Timor's Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak had said he was "staggered" at the "lack of capacity" of international forces to prevent armed men entering Dili to try to kill the two leaders.

The Associated Press reports that East Timorese Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro said prosecutors would soon issue arrest warrants for 18 suspects in the attacks. He said the evidence against the men was strong, but did not give any names.

Some analysts expect Reinado's supporters to stage violent demonstrations. So far, however, the country has been mostly calm since the attacks. Australian soldiers on Wednesday searched cars for weapons at checkpoints and armored UN vehicles guarded top politicians.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was to fly to East Timor after pledging to boost Australia's military presence in response to Monday's failed coup. Mr. Rudd said he was shocked and disturbed by the events in Dili.

Rudd said the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) have secured key buildings and deployed more broadly throughout Dili and increased their presence in East Timor's districts. UN forces, including Australian troops, which have been in East Timor since 2006, following the violence between rebel forces and East Timorese police.

Ramos-Horta has waived an arrest warrant for Reinado, deciding instead to seek peaceful negotiations with him.

The UN and East Timorese police have begun a joint investigation and the commander of East Timor's defense force has called for the appointment of a panel of inquiry.

The Asia Times Online says many East Timorese were opposed to Gusmao's decision to call in Australian troops and to hunt down Reinado, saying many would likely take umbrage at the government's decision to request more Australian troops in reaction to Monday's assassination attempt.

The deployment of more Australian troops poses a danger to the standing of East Timorese politicians in general and the Ramos-Horta government. Such a deployment would mean East Timor would have to rely on foreign forces to protect itself.

Hugh White, a former deputy secretary of the Australian Defense Department and professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University tells The New York Times that the international military commitment increasingly looked as if it had no exit strategy.

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