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Aussie troops help hunt for East Timor rebels

/ Source: The Associated Press

Australian troops backed by helicopters hunted Thursday for suspects in the attacks on East Timor's top leaders as new details emerged on the strike that left the president critically wounded.

The operation, which also involved U.N. police officers and armored personnel carriers, took place on the outskirts of Dili and involved troops combing through the jungle, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Referring to the operation, U.N. spokeswoman Alison Cooper initially said that "anti-insurgency" operations had begun. However, she said later she had intended to say they would begin once arrest warrants were issued in the case.

Australian military spokesman Maj. Phil Pyke said the operation was launched after a "group of persons of interest were identified" around the village of Dare. There was no immediate word on whether any one was detained.

New account of attacks
Meanwhile, in one of the most detailed accounts yet of Monday's attacks, a guard described how rebel soldiers jumped from two cars, firing machine guns at the compound of President Ramos-Horta shouting "Traitor! Traitor!"

The guard, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is prohibited from talking to the media about the attack, described how he killed fugitive rebel commander Alfredo Reinado before the president returned from an early morning walk on the beach.

"I shouted Alfredo's name and then opened fire at his head with my machine gun because he was wearing a bulletproof vest," he told The AP. "I fired many times, I don't know how many times," said the guard.

But gunmen lying in a ditch then shot the president in the chest and stomach, he said.

An hour later, suspected rebels shot at the convoy of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao but he escaped unhurt.

The attacks underscored the challenges facing East Timor, a country of 1 million people that has struggled to achieve stability six year voting to break free from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored ballot in 1999.

State of emergency lengthened
On Wednesday, the parliament extended by 10 days a state of emergency imposed after the attacks. The emergency order bans demonstrations, gives police extended powers and imposes a nighttime curfew across the tiny nation.

Analysts predicted Reinado's supporters might stage violent demonstrations, but the country has so far been calm. Later Thursday, his body and that one his followers also killed in the attack are due to be buried close to his home in Dili.

Reinado and his followers were blamed in part for a spasm of unrest in 2006 after they deserted the army, triggering clashes that killed 37 people and led to the collapse of the tiny nation's first post-independence government.

He had been charged with murder over the events, but enjoyed folk hero status among some disenchanted youth and people from the west of the country who complain that the central government discriminates against them.

Australia has boosted its security presence in the country since the attack. It now has more than 1,000 troops with the arrival of a warship and more than 300 police and soldiers.

Ramos-Horta, 58, was shot at least two times in his chest and stomach. Doctors in the northern Australian city of Darwin, where he was being treated, have said he will need several operations but are hopeful he will make a full recovery and that he could be discharged within two weeks.