Subject: East Timor Launches Operation Against Rebels [+Could Face 25 Years in Jail]

also: ETimor fugitives could face more than 25 years in jail: official

East Timor launches operation against rebels

By Ahmad Pathoni

DILI, Feb. 16 (Reuters) - East Timor's military and international forces have launched an operation against rebels hiding in hills near the capital following an assassination attempt on the country's president.

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, 58, is recovering in hospital in Australia after being shot and critically wounded at his home in Dili on Monday in an attack by rebel soldiers that analysts said could spark renewed violence in the tiny nation.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped injury in another shooting, also believed to have been carried out by followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado who was killed during the attack.

"We know that residents are hiding them (rebels). We call on the people to stop protecting them because by doing so they put their lives at risk," East Timor's military chief, Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak, told a news conference.

"We call on the people to contribute to a peaceful solution to the problem. For two years they supported Alfredo, but what have they got?"

Ruak said security forces were questioning more than 30 people in relation to the attacks on the country's leaders and would start going to people's houses to look for the rebels.

He urged soldiers who were sacked in 2006 to join others who have agreed to talks with the government to address their grievances.

Reinado deserted the army in May 2006 to join about 600 former soldiers who had been sacked earlier that year. The soldiers complained that they had been discriminated against because they were from the western part of East Timor.

The soldiers' dismissal sparked protests that degenerated into a wave of violence, in which 37 people died and about 150,000 people fled from their homes.

International security forces were sent to the resource-rich but still-impoverished country to halt the ethnic fighting and clashes between rival police and the military in 2006.

The tiny nation's prosecutor-general has issued arrest warrants for 24 people suspected of involvement in Monday's attacks.

East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence. Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation.


ETimor fugitives could face more than 25 years in jail: official

DILI, Feb. 16 (AFP) - At least 17 East Timorese fugitives wanted over attacks on the president and prime minister this week could face more than 25 years in jail if found guilty of treason, an official said Saturday.

Prosecutor-general Longuinhos Monteiro told AFP that the maximum sentence for plotting against the state, or treason, was 25 years, "though that term can be increased by one-third if factors weigh against defendants".

He did not say what factors would be taken into account.

Predominantly Catholic East Timor does not mete out the death penalty.

Gunmen, assumed to be renegade soldiers backing former army major Alfredo Reinado, fired on President Jose Ramos-Horta at his residence on Monday, forcing his emergency evacuation to Australia for life-saving treatment.

Shortly afterward a convoy carrying Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was shot at, but the premier escaped unscathed.

Reinado was killed in a firefight at Ramos-Horta's home.

Warrants have been issued for 17 men with an additional one still under preparation, Monteiro said, declining to release the names of the wanted.

The attacks threw tiny East Timor into its second major crisis in two years, coming on the tail of 2006 unrest that originally saw Reinado come to prominence as the leader of a mutinous army faction.

The violence two years ago left 37 people dead and forced the deployment of international peacekeepers, whose numbers were bolstered this week.

East Timor, one of the world's poorest nations, is under a national state of emergency until February 23, with an evening-to-dawn curfew in place and rallies banned.

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