- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008


BANGKOK — Australia used hundreds of its troops to prop up the government of East Timor yesterday, after leaders of the tiny Southeast Asian nation survived an assassination attempt during a failed coup by renegade soldiers.

President Jose Ramos-Horta, 58, a Nobel Peace laureate who played a key part in the struggle for independence, had a bullet removed from his lung by surgeons in Darwin, Australia, and was in a stable condition in an induced coma.

One of his bodyguards was injured and two would-be assassins died in a shootout at the president’s home in the East Timor capital, Dili.

One of the dead men was identified as Alfredo Reinado, East Timor’s most dangerous rebel.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped a similar attack. He declared a state of emergency and imposed an overnight curfew as rumors swirled around Dili about who might have supported the plotters and whether the country was still at risk.

I consider this incident a coup attempt against the state by Reinado, and it failed, Mr. Gusmao said.

This was an organized operation because they also ambushed and attacked me as I was leaving for my office this morning, he said.

Mr. Gusmao’s car was riddled with bullets, but no one was harmed.

The turbulent young country — which has huge offshore oil and gas reserves — was braced last night for further violence, as it was feared that followers of the plotters would seek to further destabilize the nation.

In 2006, Reinado, a former chief of the military police, led 600 mutinous soldiers in an orgy of arson and street fighting that left 37 persons dead and drove 100,000 from their homes.

He was arrested and charged with murder but escaped from prison and went on the run with a gang of supporters.

The chaos caused Australia to send an intervention force, which remains in the country, underpinning the government.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, described East Timor’s president and prime minister as heroes of their struggle for independence from Indonesia, whose brutal 25-year occupation of the territory saw the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Timorese.

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