Subject: ETimor Military Pulls Out of Rebel Hunt: Commander
ETimor Military Pulls Out of Rebel Hunt: Commander
DILI, Feb. 20 (AFP) - East Timor's military has pulled out of a hunt for rebels accused of assassination attempts against the nation's two top leaders, its chief Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak said Wednesday.
Australian-led international peacekeepers along with UN police, national police and the military have been searching for at least 17 renegade soldiers accused of trying to kill the president and prime minister on February 11.
"Why should we go to places that are empty?" asked Matan Ruak of the search, which has focused on the hills outside Dili.
"We have already cancelled our operations... Cancelling does not mean that there will not be any operation again," the brigadier general said, without elaborating, though he said he would monitor the situation.
Matan Ruak has already demanded an explanation as to how the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force here and some 1,700 UN police had failed to prevent carloads of about 20 rebels from reaching the homes of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
East Timor's military was believed to be playing only a marginal role in the hunts, but their pullout highlights fraught relations with the international forces here.
Ramos-Horta was critically wounded in the attack and airlifted to Australia, where he is recovering, while Gusmao escaped an ambush on his car unharmed.
The international forces were originally dispatched at the government's request after unrest in 2006 flared among military and police factions, causing bloody street violence that left 37 people dead.
The leader of renegade soldiers who originally sparked the 2006 violence apparently led last week's attacks and was killed in the firefight at Ramos-Horta's home.
Meanwhile the United States and Australia were providing personnel to help domestic investigations as East Timor lacked forensics staff and facilities, prosecutor-general Longuinhos Monteiro said.
"This has forced me to advise the president of the republic and the government that in this case support teams for crime scene investigation were needed to help facilitate the initial investigation," Monteiro said.
The United States will send three members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while Australia has provided five investigators, he said.
They were expected to stay for two to three weeks, Monteiro added.
Australia urges East Timor rebels to surrender
CANBERRA, Feb. 20 (Reuters) - Australia's top military commander on Wednesday urged rebel East Timorese soldiers to surrender as Australian commandos continue hunting them following an attack last week on the country's leadership.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said elite Australian special forces soldiers hoped to arrest followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, killed during a pre-dawn gunbattle in which President Jose Ramos-Horta was seriously wounded.
"We would like to bring these people to justice peacefully without confrontation, and I encourage any of Reinado's former followers to surrender to the authorities in East Timor," Houston told a hearing before Australia's upper house Senate.
But under rules of combat covering the near-1,000 Australian soldiers helping East Timorese police and soldiers, Houston said Australian-led international forces would shoot back if "any individuals choose confrontation".
East Timor's police and military have been merged following the attack on Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to better coordinate the hunt for rebels.
Nobel laureate Ramos-Horta, 58, is recovering in hospital in Australia after being shot twice in the back and chest, undergoing more surgery at the weekend. Gusmao escaped injury.
Reinado deserted the army in May 2006 to join about 600 former soldiers sacked earlier that year amid claims they were discriminated against because they were from the western part of East Timor.
International peacekeeping forces were sent to the resource-rich but largely impoverished country to halt ethnic fighting and clashes between rival police and the military which broke out following the rebellion.
Houston said the security environment in East Timor following the arrival of 200 Australian fast-reaction reinforcements was now stable but tense.
But after criticism from Dili that Australian peacekeepers and the 1,600-strong United Nations police in the country failed to provide warning of last week's attack, Houston said his troops were asked last June by Ramos-Horta not to arrest Reinado.
"On October12, and significantly, President Horta granted Reinado freedom of movement, and that freedom of movement was carrying arms," Houston said.
That was despite the fact the rebels posed a threat with high-powered automatic rifles, he said.
Houston also responded to criticism that Australian forces failed to provide a helicopter to assist Gusmao after his vehicle convoy came under attack, saying initial requests from East Timorese guards had been too vague to assess the threat.
East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 marred by violence. Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation that followed.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)
Joyo Indonesia News Service
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