Australian troops hunt for East Timor rebels

Australian troops backed by helicopters today launched a manhunt for suspects in the attacks on East Timor’s top leaders.

Australian troops backed by helicopters today launched a manhunt for suspects in the attacks on East Timor’s top leaders.

The operation, which also involved UN police officers and armoured personnel carriers, took place on the outskirts of the capital Dili.

Troops combed through the jungle searching for suspects.

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

The counter-offensive follows attempted assassination attempts on the country’s president and prime minister.

Doctors said yesterday that Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Jose Ramos-Horta was stable and recovering well from gunshot wounds sustained in Monday’s attacks, but remained in “extremely serious” condition at an Australian hospital.

Gunmen also attacked a car carrying Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, but he escaped unhurt.

Meanwhile a guard revealed how he had shot and killed Alfredo Reinado, the leader of Monday’s assassination attempt on the president.

Rebels had jumped from two cars shouting “traitor, traitor” to the president as he returned from a walk on the beach, according to the guard.

“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, whose identity has not been disclosed, said.

“I fired many times, I don’t know how many times.”

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

The unsuccessful attack on Mr Gusmao came an hour later.

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will fly to East Timor tomorrow.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told the Canberra parliament that Mr Rudd would meet Mr Gusmao, “reflecting the Australian government’s, the Australian parliament’s and the Australian people’s long-standing support and long-standing friendship and special relationship with East Timor”.

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