DILI, East Timor &

Rebel soldiers shot and critically wounded East Timor's president and opened fire on the prime minister today in a failed coup attempt in the recently independent nation. A top rebel leader was killed during one of the attacks.




President Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace laureate, was injured in the stomach and chest. He was flown to a hospital in Australia under sedation. A medical official there said doctors were hopeful he would make a "very good recovery".




Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, escaped an attack on his motorcade unhurt.




East Timor, a nation of — million people, is a former Portugese colony that borders Indonesia and is off the northern coast of Australia. It gained independence in 2002 after years of Indonesian occupation.




Army spokesman Maj. Domingos da Camara said rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and one of his men were killed in the attack on the home of Ramos-Horta, while one of the president's guards also died.




"I consider this incident a coup attempt against the state by Reinado and it failed," Gusmao said. He called it a well-planned operation intended to "paralyze the government and create instability."




"This government won't fall because of this," he said.




The attacks plunged the tiny country into fresh uncertainty after the firing of 600 mutinous soldiers in 2006 triggered unrest that killed 37 people, displaced more than 150,000 others and led to the collapse of the government.




Reinado was one of several army commanders who joined the mutiny. While most have returned home, Reinado and an unknown number of armed supporters had remained in hiding, refusing pleas to surrender.




Australia announced it would send scores more soldiers to the international peacekeeping force it currently heads in the country, bringing total troop levels to around 1,000. The neighboring nation also pledged more police officers to the 1,400 strong U.N.-led force already there.




Ramos-Horta underwent surgery at an Australian army hospital in East Timor before being flown to the northern Australian city of Darwin for further treatment, said Ian Badham, a spokesman for medical evacuation service CareFlight International.