Gunmen wound East Timor president, fire on car carrying prime minister, PM says

Eds: UPDATES with East Timor diplomat saying presidnet will be airlifted to Australia for treatment; ADDS background.

AP Photo EKW102, EKW101, EKW105, EKW104


Associated Press Writer

DILI, East Timor (AP) -- Gunmen wounded President and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and opened fire on a car carrying the prime minister Monday in coordinated attacks against the leadership of the recently independent nation, officials said.

The president was wounded in stomach, while Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unhurt.

"The state came under attack," Gusmao told reporters. "The attempt to kill the prime minister and president today failed and only the president was injured."

Monday's violence plunged the tiny country into fresh uncertainty after a flare-up in violence in 2006 killed 37 people, displaced more than 150,000 others and led to the collapse of the government. Security in the country has since been overseen by the United Nations.

Ramos-Horta was in "stable condition" following the shooting, Gusmao said.

An East Timor diplomat in Australia, Consul General Abel Guterres, told Sky television that Ramos-Horta's wounds were not life-threatening and that he would be airlifted to Darwin, Australia, for treatment.

Two cars carrying rebels soldiers passed Ramos-Horta's house on the outskirts of Dili at around 7 a.m. local time and began shooting, said army spokesman Maj. Domingos da Camara. The guards returned fire, he said.

Notorious rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed in the attack, as was one of Ramos-Horta's guards, da Camara said.

Reinado was due to go on trial in absentia for his alleged role in several deadly shootings between police and military units during the violence in 2006. He had evaded captured since then and refused repeated pleas by the government to surrender.

Australian-led troops restored calm following the 2006 turmoil and peaceful elections were held in which Ramos-Horta was elected president. Low-level violence had continued in the country of 1 million people since then.

Deposed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has maintained Ramos-Horta's government was illegitimate. His political party immediately condemned Monday's attack in a statement released to the media.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, gained independence in 2002 after voting to break free from more than two decades of brutal Indonesian occupation in a U.N.-sponsored ballot.

Ramos-Horta and Gusmao, who led the armed struggle against the occupation, have vowed to tackle rampant poverty and restore damaged relations between the country's police and army.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned last month that East Timor risked lapsing back into unrest if lingering resentment following the 2006 violence was not addressed by the government and the United Nations, which is currently policing the nation.

Reinado initially said he supported Ramos-Horta's rise to power, but in recent months grew impatient with a slow response to his demands that the 600 soldiers who were fired ahead of the 2006 turmoil be reinstated to the army.

Ramos-Horta shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with countryman Bishop Carlos Belo for leading a nonviolent struggle against the occupation.