Subject: Rebels probably hiding in Dili houses: army chief

February 16, 2008 Saturday

ASIA: Rebels probably hiding in Dili houses: army chief

Karen Michelmore


DILI Feb 16

East Timor's army chief has called on the rebels who attacked the country's two key leaders to stop their fight and instead help work for a stable nation.

General Taur Matan Ruak today said some of the rebels - around 30 heavily armed men - are probably hiding in houses in the capital Dili.

East Timor's army is conducting joint operations with the bolstered Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) around Dili to catch the men.

"Our main (objective) is to bring them (in), not to kill them," Taur said.

"To bring them in means to ask them to help us find a good solution.

"I don't ask them to surrender. I ask them to find a good solution, the best solution.

"A good solution is a peaceful solution.

"Democracy won't work without stability."

President Jose Ramos-Horta was seriously wounded when rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and a band of armed men attacked his residence on Monday, plunging the world's newest democracy into a fresh crisis.

Ramos-Horta is currently in a serious but stable condition in Royal Darwin Hospital after undergoing further surgery for his injuries yesterday.

Reinado was killed in the gunfight in which Ramos-Horta was shot up to three times.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the rebels' new leader, former Lieutenant Gastao Salsinha for heading an attack on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who was injured in the ambush a short time after the attack of Ramos-Horta.

Taur says he wants the violence problem resolved quickly, because the country has already "lost two years".

He said Salsinha had only one option - to cooperate with his troops.

"The only way is to cooperate with us to put the end of the problems and find a good solution, for him and for all the people in our country," he said.

He said the task authorities faced was "not easy", and he could not promise the men would be caught.

"One thing is what you want, another thing is how we are going to do it, and we are ready to help," Taur said.

"What we are going to do is execute the orders from (the authorities) with effort and with intelligence to avoid risks."

He said the rebels had split into smaller groups because of the ISF operations and were probably hiding in people's houses.

"We appeal to the population to help us because we know that some of them are hiding them," he said.

"Hiding them is not a good way to contribute to a solution and maybe they are putting at risk their own lives.

"I encourage them to work with us."

He said many people had supported Reinado for the past two years.

"In the last two years, many people hid Alfredo, in the end what happened is Alfredo died," he said.

Salsinha says he will not surrender, unless his supporters ask him to, and has vowed to fight back if attacked by Timorese troops.

Many of the men believed to be behind this week's assassination attempts were involved in the crisis which jolted East Timor in 2006 when anger over the government's sacking of 600 soldiers complaining of discrimination degenerated into violence.

That violence left 37 dead and forced 150,000 to flee their homes.

Reinado, a former army major who was wanted on murder charges over the 2006 crisis, escaped from prison 18 months ago.

Ramos-Horta had taken a moderate approach to the fugitive leader, insisting on talks to resolve their dispute and waiving an arrest warrant for Reinado on the 2006-crisis-related charges.

Dili has been calm since the attacks earlier this week, after the government declared and later extended a "State of Siege", banning large gatherings and demonstrations, and imposing a strict 8pm curfew.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited the tiny country yesterday, pledging Australia's support and military commitment as long as it is needed.

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