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Curfew in Dili after attacks on premier, president

Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta is said to be in a serious but stable condition after being shot at by rebels. Agência Brasil

A 48-hour state of emergency and curfew have been imposed in Dili after this morning’s attacks on the prime minister, who escaped uninjured, and the president, who is undergoing medical treatment in Australia.

The attacks on President Jose Ramos-Horta and an hour later on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao have left the country questioning whether stability and security, deemed by senior UN officials to have been reasonably good recently, can be maintained.

In a late afternoon press conference in Dili, Finn Reske-Nielsen, acting special representative for the UN Secretary-General, said the UN deplored the attacks.

“Over the course of the day, the UN has been in a series of high-level meetings with the government of Timor-Leste, the International Security Forces [ISF] and the F-FDTL [defence force] and simultaneously the police are investigating the events,” Reske-Nielsen said.

During the attacks, the fugitive former military police commander, Alfredo Reinado, and one of his comrades were killed.

According to Reske-Nielsen, the UN Police (UNPol) is on a high state of alert and is coordinating with the ISF and the Timorese authorities: Meetings had been held to ensure a coordinated response to the incident.

He also said road blocks had been set up on roads leading out of Dili, and police were searching cars in an attempt to capture those responsible for the attacks. No one had been arrested, he said.

Prime minister blames “petitioners”

"[Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao] has certainly taken control of the situation in his capacity as prime minister and the powers of the president have been moved on in the accordance with the constitution. So I think as far as the functioning of the state institutions things are progressing as we would expect them to do," Reske-Nielsen said.

Gusmao himself has blamed some of the “petitioners” - the nearly 600 disgruntled defence force troops dismissed in 2006. “I called upon all the `petitioners’ to solve their problems, but some `petitioners’ have responded with bullets,” he said, adding: “This can be considered a strong action against the nation, not just against myself or the president.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A map of Timor-Leste and surrounding countries
In a statement from UN headquarters in New York, the UN Secretary-General said he “condemned in the strongest possible terms these unacceptable attacks on the legitimate institutions of the state and called on the Timorese people to remain calm and refrain from all violent acts.”

With some 30,000 displaced people still living in camps in Dili that are becoming increasingly politicised with the passage of time, some concern was raised at the UN press conference that today’s events may lead to unrest in some of the camps and other sensitive locations in the city.

“All I can say at this point in time is that a lot of effort has gone in to strengthening security in Dili and elsewhere,” Reske-Nielsen said. “But these are difficult details to share as we need them to be effective... The necessary operational measures have been taken and we expect all of this to be in place by nightfall.”


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