UN armored vehicles patrol East Timor’s capital Dili under a state of emergency following an attack that critically wounded the President José Ramos-Horta Feb. 11. Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize (with Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo), was shot in the chest and stomach on the road in front of his house in an apparent coup attempt. His guards returned fire, killing wanted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. Ramos-Horta was airlifted to an Australian hospital where surgeons said he was “extremely lucky to be alive” after they operated for three hours to remove bullet fragments and repair chest wounds. Gunmen also attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s motorcade an hour later, but he escaped unhurt.
Acting president Vicente Gutterres announced the emergency declaration on national television. The order bans demonstrations, gives police extended powers and calls for a curfew for at least 48 hours. Australia’s troop presence in East Timor climbed to more than 1,000 Feb. 12, with the arrival of some 300 soliders and police, with a Navy warship moored off the coast in sight of the capital’s harbor.
Reinado was among 600 mutinous soldiers dismissed by the government in 2006—a move that triggered widespread violence that forced 155,000 from their homes and the prompted the resignation of the country’s first post-independence prime minister (Mari Alkatiri).
Reinado was arrested but escaped from prison months later. John Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) said the assassination attempts “occurred, in part because the rule of law remains weak. Maj. Reinado, who was indicted for murder for his actions in 2006, should have been brought to justice long before this attack.” (AP, Feb. 12)
See our last post on East Timor.