Australian troops have begun arriving in East Timor to help enforce the state of emergency. The move comes after the nation's president Jose Ramos-Horta was critically wounded in an assassination attempt. The president will remain on life support until next week. Meanwhile, the United Nations says that eleven people are being questioned about Monday's attack.
Soldiers patrolling in Dili
Armoured vehicles are patrolling the streets of Dili. The security forces are on red alert. An Australian contingent of around 300 soldiers and police has also arrived in the capital to strengthen the security and to avoid any backlash following an assassination attempt by rebels on President Jose Ramos Horta.
He was shot at his residence early morning on Monday. His bodyguard was also injured, while two rebels, including fugitive leader Alfredo Reinado were killed during an exchange of gunfire. The rebels also targeted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on Monday. But he escaped unhurt.
Attacks condemned globally
The attacks have been widely condemned by the international community. Australian foreign minster Stephen Smith calls it an attack on democracy: “This was a deliberate assassination attempt to take out the PM and the President, the two key figures in the duly elected East Timor government. And that’s the main reason why we have responded with what we regard as an effective show of force.”
East Timor became an independent state in 2002. But it has failed to achieve stability ever since. In 2006, the army was split on regional lines, triggering violence that killed at least 37 and displaced thousands of people from their homes. The country had to call foreign troops to restore order.
Rebels at large
The man, who led the revolt against the government, Major Reinado, was later charged with murder. But he escaped from jail the same year with 50 other inmates.
Since then he and his followers have been at large and were on the run from the international forces. They were also accused of attacking several police stations and stealing weapons.
Now that Reinado has been killed, the authorities are looking for his followers. Damien Kingsbury, an Australian expert on East Timor affairs in Deakin University, however stresses there must be a root and branch investigation: “They need to start looking at who was financing Reinado’s operation. It was very clear he was getting support from very highly placed political sources in Dili. So that also needed to be resolved.”
Fear of violence
The latest attacks have sparked fears of more instability in the country. The interim President Vicente Guterres has invoked a 48 hour state of emergency and appealed to the people to stay calm. Large public gatherings and rallies have been banned.
Meanwhile the UN has said that 11 people had been questioned by the police in East Timor over Monday’s attack. The UN Security Council adopted a formal statement on Monday calling on East Timor's government to bring to justice those responsible for the attack.