- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

DILI, East Timor (AP) The rebels jumped from two cars, firing machine guns as they stormed the compound of President Jose Ramos-Horta. “Traitor! Traitor!” they shouted, hunting for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In one of the most detailed accounts yet of Monday’s assassination attempt, a guard described how he killed fugitive rebel commander Alfredo Reinado before the president returned from an early morning walk on the beach.

“I shouted Alfredo’s name and then opened fire at his head with my machine gun because he was wearing a bulletproof vest,” the guard told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is prohibited from talking to the media about the attack.

“I fired many times, I don’t know how many times,” said the guard, who was back on duty Tuesday in his uniform.

But gunmen lying in a ditch then shot the president in the chest and stomach.

Along with a separate strike against the prime minister an hour later, the events plunged East Timor into fresh crisis just six years after it voted to break free from decades of brutal Indonesian rule.

Doctors on Wednesday said Ramos-Horta who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign against the 24-year occupation was stable and recovering well from gunshot wounds, but remained in “extremely serious” condition at an Australian hospital.

Parliament extended a 48-hour state of emergency by 10 days until Feb. 23 due to concerns about more unrest. Funerals for the rebels will be held Thursday and plans were under way to arrest warrants for 18 suspects in the shootings.

Early Thursday, Australian troops and helicopters along with U.N. police officers and armored personnel carriers began hunting for the suspects in an operation in a jungled area on the outskirts of Dili, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

U.N. spokesman Alison Cooper confirmed “anti-insurgency” operations had begun.

The attack on Ramos-Horta was led by Reinado, who was wanted on murder charges for his role in a 2006 surge of violence that left dozens dead. A raid on his mountain base by Australian troops killed five of his supporters, but Reinado escaped.

Last month, he threatened to march on the capital with his men if the government ignored demands to reinstate hundreds of mutinous soldiers.

“Alfredo Reinado was a traitor and I will gladly go hunt down and fight the others responsible for this attack,” said the guard who detailed how he fatally shot the fugitive rebel commander. Two other guards interviewed by the AP on Tuesday corroborated the account.

A friend of Ramos-Horta’s who spoke on condition of anonymity because the shooting is under investigation, said Monday’s battle raged for around 30 minutes before the president heard shots. Making his way inland, he refused a ride from a passing vehicle and walked up the public road to the house escorted by two bodyguards with pistols, the friend said.

A phone call reporting an exchange of fire came into the nearest police station at 6:59 a.m.; two police units arrived about 15 minutes later.

No U.N. police or foreign troops intervened in the shootout, because Ramos-Horta had said he only wanted protection from Timorese forces, said the U.N.’s deputy country head, Finn Reske-Nielsen.

The shots that hit Ramos-Horta were fired by men laying in wait across from the main entrance to the residence, after Reinado and his bodyguard Leopoldinho da Costa, had been shot dead, the guard said.

During the shooting, an East Timor soldier arrived by car and drove into the line of fire to protect Ramos-Horta, crashing into a signpost and a wooden fence before he too was critically injured.

The attack in which rebel forces slipped into the capital, Dili, using cars with government license places has raised questions about who was responsible for protecting the president and why more than 2,000 foreign police and soldiers could not prevent it.

Ramos-Horta has proudly called himself a man of the people who never wanted or needed a heavy security detail and has never shied away from taking risks.

He personally intervened in 2006 when rival gangs roamed the streets looting, burning and attacking people with machetes. He has told stories about driving around the capital, day and night, without any protection.

“President Jose Ramos-Horta was found lying on the ground,” said U.N. deputy police Chief Hermanprit. Two minutes later he was in an ambulance to the hospital, he said.

During Indonesian occupation, Ramos-Horta was East Timor’s voice to the world, taking its struggle for independence to the United Nations and becoming its first foreign minister after it won independence in 2002.

In 2006, the firing of nearly 600 mutinous soldiers who said they were being discriminated against including Reinado and his men led to gunbattles between police and army forces that left 37 dead and drove 155,000 from their homes. Tens of thousands still live in dirty camps.

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