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East Timor President Slams International Troops Over Assassination Attempt

East Timor's president has criticized Australian-led forces for failing to capture the rebels who shot him outside his home in Dili last month. For the first time, Jose Ramos-Horta has described how he walked into an ambush and watched as a gunman lifted his rifle to shoot him. Mr. Ramos-Horta says that international peacekeepers were too slow in their attempts to catch his attackers. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Jose Ramos-Horta almost died when he was shot by rebel soldiers in East Timor last month.

He is now recovering from surgery in the northern Australian city of Darwin and on Friday, he spoke about the attempt on his life. Mr. Ramos-Horta says he looked into the eyes of one of his attackers as the man prepared to fire at him, and then he turned to flee before being shot.

The president says help was slow to arrive as he bled in the street outside his home. He says he believes United Nations police had obstructed those who were trying to rescue him.

There was criticism, too, for international troops, whom Mr. Ramos-Horta accuses of not doing enough to keep his attackers from escaping.

"I would say that Australian-led forces could have promptly surrounded the entire town, closing all the exits, using helicopter, sending immediately elements to my house to get the information on the ground," he said. "They would have captured them within hours, because for many hours after the attack on my house they were still in the hills around my house."

Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says that overall, Mr. Ramos-Horta was complimentary about the effort to protect him and his country. The defense minister noted that Mr. Ramos-Horta had acknowledged that the foreign troops can not act without coordinating with officials from the East Timor government or the United Nations office there.

In addition, Fitzgibbon says, given the gravity of his injuries, the president could not objectively judge whether the response from peacekeepers was timely.

Despite the criticism, Jose Ramos-Horta has been full of praise for Australian soldiers whose donated blood helped to save his life.

The ambush was the work of rebels led by a former military police chief, Alfredo Reinado. He was killed in the attack but his key lieutenants escaped into the mountains that surround East Timor's capital, Dili.

So far eight fugitives have surrendered, and the hunt for others continues.

The attack on Mr. Ramos-Horta coincided with an ambush on the home of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unharmed.

Clashes between army mutineers and units loyal to the East Timor government in 2006 prompted Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal to send peacekeeping forces.

Reinforcements sent since the February attacked have boosted Australia's contingent to about 1,100 soldiers and police officers.

The assassination attempts in February on the tiny country's most senior leaders have highlighted East Timor's volatility six years after independence from Indonesia.