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East Timor Rebel Leader Surrenders


A leader of a rebel group blamed for an attempted assassination of East Timor's president has surrendered. Marianne Kearney reports for VOA from Jakarta where Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao confirmed the rebel's surrender.

Gastao Salsinha and 12 of his men came down from the mountain town of Ermera and surrendered to East Timor's deputy prime minister in the capital Dili.

Salsinha, who led a band of rebel Timorese soldiers, was allegedly involved in an shooting attack on President José Ramos-Horta and a separate attack on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in February. President Ramos-Horta was seriously injured in the attack.

The government has been involved in negotiations with Salsinha for several days.

Prime Minister Gusmao said he welcomed the surrender of the rebel group that has been blamed for ongoing violence, which has destabilized the young country.

Gusmao said it is not up to the government, but the courts to determine the guilt of Salsinha and his men.

"Now they are in the hands of the judiciary. Of course we will work through the courts, to prove if they are guilty or not. But it is not the business of the government," Mr. Gusmao said.

Dili had issued arrest warrants for Salsinha and his men, after the bungled attack. Salsinha took over as rebel leader after Alfredo Reinado was killed by presidential guards during the attack.

Prime Minister Gusmao, who is on a five-day state visit to Jakarta, also praised Indonesia's for its assistance in tracking down rebel troops, who fled to Indonesia after the shooting.

"I must praise our military and police working together with the people, with the communities, to handle this situation," Mr. Gusmao said.

Jakarta said Monday it arrested two Timorese soldiers, hiding in the home of an ethnic-Timorese criminal known as Hercules. Indonesia previously arrested and deported another three rebel soldiers.

The quick co-operation between the two countries has helped ease tensions, after President Ramos-Horta last month lashed out at Indonesia, accusing elements in Indonesia of assisting the rebels.

East Timor has suffered from simmering violence since 2006 when the army fractured along ethnic lines, sparking fighting between the police and military that killed at least 37 people and drove 150,000 people from their homes.

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