Subject: East Timor to use force against rebels

East Timor to use force against rebels

Fri Apr 4, 2008 10:12am BST

By Tito Belo

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor will launch a military operation next week to capture fugitive rebel soldiers believed to have been involved in an assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, the army chief said on Friday.

The operation, involving 2,000 troops and police, would be launched on Wednesday unless the rebels gave themselves up, said Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak.

Rebels attacked the home of Ramos-Horta on February 11, seriously wounding him during a gunfight. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unhurt in a separate attack the same morning.

"At first we didn't want to use gunfire in the operation, but some people are not cooperating with us and are still hiding," said Ruak, adding that force was the last option.

Ruak said the 10-day operation would involve door-to-door searches, arresting people that had provided shelter or food to the rebels and using force against the rebels.

The rebel forces led by Gastao Salsinha last month managed to escape a siege by security forces, but Ruak said the authorities had tracked the rebels to Ermera district, 75 km (47 miles) from the capital Dili.

Another senior rebel soldier accused of involvement in the attack surrendered last month and authorities had expressed confidence that the remaining rebels would give themselves up.

East Timor, Asia's youngest nation has been unable to achieve stability since hard-won independence in 2002.

The 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.

Foreign troops were sent to restore order in the former Portuguese colony of about one million people, which gained full independence from Indonesia after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence.

After the February assaults, Gusmao ordered the military and police to form a joint command to arrest followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in the raid against Ramos-Horta.

(Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu, Editing by Ed Davies and Sanjeev Miglani)

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