Subject: East Timor tightens security for Ramos-Horta return

East Timor tightens security for Ramos-Horta return

Wed Apr 16, 2008 5:06am EDT

by Tito Belo

DILI, April 16 (Reuters) - East Timor tightened security on Wednesday and huge posters welcoming President Jose Ramos-Horta dotted the route to his house ahead of his return two months after he nearly died in an assassination attempt.

The 58-year-old Nobel laureate, flown to the Australian city of Darwin for medical treatment after he was shot and critically wounded at his home in Dili on February 11, returns on Thursday.

The veteran freedom-fighter, who has always shunned heavy security, said he will return to his isolated residence on Dili's outskirts despite security officials' advice to move to a more secure location.

"Police in East Timor will work with the East Timor army and the International Stabilisation Force to provide security for the president at all times in his residence, during his movement and at the office," said Juan Carlos Arevelo, UN Police deputy police commissioner.

"We have a complete convoy to protect the president with the intervention and participation of all security elements in the country."

Posters saying "Mr President, Timor is praying and waiting for you" dot the route from the airport to his house in the eastern part of Dili and near a tourist beach area known as Pasir Putih, or white sand.

Ramos-Horta nearly lost his life when he was shot twice after gunmen loyal to rebel leader Alfredo Reinado launched early-morning attacks on the president and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in February.

Ramos-Horta told CNN he would miss the days when he could mingle with his people without being bothered about security.

"Other times, I would leave my security and entourage behind and take a minibus back into town. Like other developing countries, our minibuses are usually packed with 20-30 people. They would be surprised and happy to see me board the bus and ride with them," he told CNN.

"Often I have had the bus stop at a street cafe and I would buy everyone a meal for $1 apiece. Perhaps for other politicians these are photo opportunities. For me, they have been one of the deep pleasures of being home after being away for so long," Ramos-Horta said.

"I am saddened by the fact that these pleasures may be gone for me now."

"We have lost something. But we will find a way to remain close," he said.

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.

Estimates range as high as 200,000 for the number of East Timorese who died from fighting, famine and disease during the brutal occupation that followed, during which Ramos-Horta was a high profile spokesman abroad for independence.

As Asia's youngest nation, East Timor has been unable to achieve stability since its hard-won freedom, despite substantial oil and gas resources.

The East Timor army tore apart along regional lines in 2006, when about 600 soldiers were sacked, triggering factional violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes, many of them still living in refugee camps.

More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the country to help local security forces maintain stability. (Reporting by Tito Belo; Writing by Sugita Katyal; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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