East Timor seeking arrests over assassination attempts

East Timor's prosecutor-general said on Wednesday he would issue arrest warrants for 18 people believed to be involved in assassination attempts on the Southeast Asian nation's president and prime minister.

President Jose Ramos-Horta was critically wounded by gunfire from rebel soldiers early on Monday, while Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unhurt in a separate attack on his motorcade.

"We're coming today to a conclusion to issue the warrants," Prosecutor-General Longinhos Monteiro told reporters in Dili.

Asked how strong the evidence was, he said: "99 percent," but added "I do not want to mention the names of those involved at this stage."

Australian troops continued to arrive in Dili on Wednesday to reinforce international peacekeepers and the 1,600-strong United Nations police detachment, who are enforcing a state of emergency declared in the wake of Monday's attacks.

Ramos-Horta was airlifted to Darwin in northern Australia on Monday for emergency medical treatment for gunshot wounds. Surgeons carried out a further operation on Wednesday.

His chief surgeon, Phil Carson, said the operation revealed the president was likely shot twice, not three times as thought earlier, and he would need several more operations.

He would have considerable scarring, but would make a full recovery, Carson said.

The president is expected to stay in a medically induced coma until next week after two rounds of surgery to rebuild his right lung and remove bullet fragments.


Some analysts had said East Timor could suffer further violence and political chaos after rebel leader Alfredo Reinado died in Monday's attack on Ramos-Horta.

The president had met Reinado for talks as recently as January in a bid to reach a deal in which rebel soldiers would give up their arms in return for talks on outstanding grievances and legal issues.

However, the streets in Dili remained calm.

Despite fears that pro-Reinado members of the ruling coalition might withdraw their support following the death of the rebel leader, sparking the collapse of the government, a members of the coalition said there were no signs of a split.

"The events have made the coalition stronger. The attacks show who had good intention and who did not," said Aderito Hugo da Costa, a member of parliament in Gusmao's party.

Reinado had led a revolt against the government and was charged with murder after factional violence in 2006. Later that year he walked out of jail with 50 other inmates, embarrassing security forces.

Former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, who is secretary-general of the main opposition party Fretilin, called for early elections to settle a political impasse in parliament.

Fretilin is the dominant party in parliament, but did not form a government because it lacks an absolute majority.

Ramos-Horta, 58, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for waging a nonviolent struggle for independence, split from Fretilin.

Monteiro said the bodies of Reinado and his guard would be handed over to their families today. Reinado would be buried outside Dili, he said, declining to name the area.

East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence.

Indonesian invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, and many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation.