|Subject: Australia PM visits East Timor for
Rudd vows to stand by East Timor
February 16, 2008
PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has sent a blunt message to rebels who attacked East Timor's two top political leaders, warning that Australia will not allow the fledgling country's democracy to be threatened.
"It is by the ballot box and not by the barrel of a gun that the decisions of our countries will be made," Mr Rudd said yesterday after meeting the country's Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao.
After his four-hour visit to the capital Dili, Mr Rudd visited the stricken President Jose Ramos Horta in Darwin. Mr Ramos Horta remains unconscious in the intensive care unit of the Royal Darwin Hospital and is being treated for gunshot wounds.
"I was pretty sad (to see him)," Mr Rudd said. "It's a terrible thing to see a democratically elected leader gunned down, and just on our doorstep. But … I know the old Jose, he's a fighter, he's got a bit of a fight ahead of him still, but he's a fighter."
Mr Rudd described Mr Ramos Horta as a friend, having stayed at the house on Dili's outskirts where he was attacked.
He also visited Lieutenant Celestino Gomes, the presidential guard shot in the head at close quarters during the attack.
Gastao Salsinha, the rebels' new leader, yesterday said that security guards protecting Mr Ramos Horta started the gunfight on Monday that killed rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.
"It wasn't Major Alfredo who started the attack, it was the presidential security," Mr Salsinha told the BBC by telephone from an unknown location.
Mr Gusmao also backed away yesterday from describing the attacks as attempted assassinations, describing them as well co-ordinated ambushes.
The Age revealed on Thursday that United Nations investigators believe the attacks were kidnappings gone wrong.
Mr Salsinha, the commander of 600 soldiers who were sacked in 2006, prompting violent upheaval, confirmed that he had replaced Reinado as the leader of the heavily armed rebels, who have vowed not to surrender.
Mr Rudd told East Timor's leaders that Australia is not a "fair-weather friend" for the troubled nation of 1 million mostly impoverished people.
"We are here to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government and people of Timor-Leste (East Timor) in this difficult time in their defence of democracy," he said. "Australia is here for the good times, the bad times and the difficult times."
Mr Rudd said that Australian troops would remain in East Timor for as long as they were wanted.
Within hours of Monday's attacks on Mr Ramos Horta and Mr Gusmao, Mr Rudd had authorised a group of more than 70 elite SAS commandos to fly to East Timor to lead the hunt for the rebels in the mountains. The commandos are being backed up by more than 1000 Australian and New Zealand troops serving in East Timor's International Stabilisation Force.
Mr Gusmao, who has authorised the Australians to use lethal force if necessary, told reporters after meeting Mr Rudd that East Timor is "ready to progress from volatility to stability and from fear to confidence".
"Many people ask, is this achievable in light of this week's events?" said Mr Gusmao, who escaped the attacks unharmed. "Yes, it is achievable, because a bullet can wound a president but it can never penetrate the values of democracy."
Officials in Dili said Mr Rudd's visit would help ease tensions in the country, where political figures are blaming each other for orchestrating the attacks.
As well as government leaders, Mr Rudd met Mari Alkatiri, the head of Fretilin, the country's largest political party, which was defeated in elections last year.
Mr Alkatiri has criticised Mr Rudd's decision to send more troops to the country, saying there are already enough foreign security forces if they do their jobs.
Mr Rudd flew into a city under a declared state of siege where 1600 United Nations police are enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew amid fears of fresh violence by the supporters of Reinado, who was a hero to many mainly young disaffected Timorese.
Arrangements for the visit were chaotic, with Atul Khare, the head of the UN mission in the country, only speaking with Mr Rudd briefly before he visited doctors and nurses at an Australian army clinic where Mr Ramos Horta was treated after the attack.
With BEN DOHERTY
Australia PM visits East Timor for crisis talks
Fri Feb 15, 2008 2:57am EST
(Updates with Rudd visit to Ramos-Horta, changes dateline)
By Jill Gralow
DARWIN, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a lightning visit to East Timor on Friday to pledge support after an assassination attempt on the country's president.
He later flew to the northern Australian city of Darwin to visit President Jose Ramos-Horta, who is recovering in hospital from double gunshot wounds.
Rudd shook hands with his East Timor counterpart Xanana Gusmao, before meeting senior United Nations and Australian military officials in Dili.
"A bullet can wound a president but it never can penetrate the values of democracy," Gusmao told reporters after talks with Rudd amid heavy security in the capital, where international troops and police locked down streets.
"Our nation is a proud nation. We are ready to progress from volatility to stability, and from fear to confidence," Gusmao said.
Rudd, who sent 200 extra troops and police after Monday's double assault by rebel soldiers on Ramos-Horta's home and Gusmao's motorcade, said Australia would stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with Asia's youngest nation.
Gusmao was unharmed in the attack.
"It's by the ballot box, and not by the barrel of a gun, that the decisions for our countries will be made," Rudd said. Australia has 1,000 troops in East Timor, backing up 1,600 United Nations police.
International security forces were sent to the resource-rich but still-impoverished country in May 2006 after ethnic fighting and clashes between rival police and the military, which left more than 30 people dead and 150,000 living in refugee camps.
Rudd later flew to Royal Darwin Hospital, where Ramos-Horta was taken on life-support after he was shot by renegade soldiers led by Alfredo Reinado.
The rebel chief was killed in the ensuing gunfight with presidential guards.
"HE'S A FIGHTER"
Australian doctors will carry out more operations over the weekend to repair damage to Ramos-Horta's right lung and remove bullet fragments.
"He's a fighter. I know old Jose, he's a fighter," Rudd said, declining to comment on the president's condition.
East Timor's parliament has imposed a state of emergency following the latest unrest, with Australian special forces soldiers hunting rebels in hills near the capital.
The tiny nation's prosecutor-general issued arrest warrants for 24 people suspected of involvement in the attacks.
In Dili, the streets were calm and shops, offices and banks were open. Fears of violence in the wake of the double assassination attempt have so far proved unfounded.
"I only hope there will be no more unrest and rebellion. Because of the rebellion, the government imposed the state of emergency and we can't do anything at night. We just stay at home. It is not good for us young people," said Adriano da Costa, a shopkeeper in central Dili.
Reinado led a revolt against the government and was charged with murder after the factional violence in 2006. Later that year, he escaped jail with 50 other inmates, embarrassing security forces.
The man who claims to have taken command of rebel soldiers after Reinado's death, former army lieutenant Gastao Salsinha, on Friday said he would resist capture if located at a safehouse he told Australia's Channel Nine television was in Dili.
"I am also a soldier so I have dignity as a soldier. If a soldier comes to attack me I will fight back," he said.
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. Many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation. (Additional reporting by Tito Belo and Ahmad Pathoni in Dili and Rob Taylor in Canberra; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by David Fogarty)
Back to February menu