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East Timor President Makes First Remarks Since Assassination Attempt


East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta, who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in February, has spoken publicly for the first time about the attack. Mr. Ramos-Horta said he would not issue a political statement but wanted to thank world and church leaders their support after the assassination bid by rebels. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The president's statement was filmed at a hospital in northern Australia where he has had five operations since being critically wounded in an attack by rebels in East Timor.

Jose Ramos-Horta was seated in a chair with an East Timor flag draped behind him.

Despite almost losing his life in the assassination attempt, he looked well and spoke clearly.

East Timor's leader was shot during an ambush in the fledgling nation's capital Dili on February 11. Rebels also targeted Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped unharmed.

The attack was orchestrated by fugitive rebel commander Alfredo Reinado, who was killed by presidential guards.

Mr. Ramos-Horta did not issue any political statements, but used his first public appearance since the attack to express his gratitude to those who helped save his life.

"Today for the first time I am able to speak publicly although I am refraining from making a political speech," he said. "This being Easter week I wish to use this opportunity to thank all who prayed for me, who looked after me, who cared for me following the assassination attempt on me by Mr. Alfredo Reinado."

The president was shot several times in the attack.

He received emergency surgery in East Timor and was flown to Darwin in Australia for further medical treatment.

Doctors are confident he will make a full recovery.

Arrest warrants have been issued against 17 people suspected of involvement in the attacks on East Timor's leaders.

The attacks prompted Australia to send an additional 200 troops and police officers to Dili because of fears of more unrest.

Troops from Australia, Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand were deployed to East Timor nearly two years ago after fighting between rebel elements of the country's security forces and units loyal to the government.

The impoverished former Portuguese colony voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999 and became independent three years later.