Asia Crisis

FBI team to help E.Timor with attack probe

DILI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - An FBI team arrived in East Timor on Wednesday to help with the investigation into the double assassination attempt on the young nation's leaders, the U.S. ambassador to East Timor said.

East Timor's president, Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, was shot and critically wounded at his home in Dili last week in an attack by rebel soldiers while Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped injury in another shooting.

Both attacks are believed to have been carried out by followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado who was killed during the attack on Ramos-Horta.

Ramos-Horta, 58, is recovering in hospital in Australia after being shot twice in the back and chest.

Arrest warrants have been issued against 17 people suspected of being involved in the attack while East Timor's police and international troops have been hunting for rebels hiding in hills near Dili.

"They are here to work directly for the prosecutor-general," U.S. Ambassador Hans George Klemm said after introducing the three FBI officers to the acting president, Fernando de Araujo.

"They are actually here for an unlimited period of time and we are very committed in trying to assist the prosecutor-general to uncover all the facts of the case and develop a strong case to bring to the prosecutor as soon as possible.

"They are highly trained individuals in all areas of criminal investigations and forensics but also well-trained in all aspects of bringing the cases to prosecutions."

Earlier, Australia's top military commander urged rebel East Timorese soldiers to surrender as Australian commandos continued hunting them down.

"We would like to bring these people to justice peacefully without confrontation, and I encourage any of Reinado's former followers to surrender to the authorities in East Timor," Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told a hearing before Australia's upper house Senate.

Reinado deserted the army in May 2006 to join about 600 former soldiers sacked earlier that year amid claims they were discriminated against because they were from the western part of East Timor.

International peacekeeping forces were sent to the resource-rich but largely impoverished country to halt ethnic fighting and clashes between rival police and the military which broke out following the rebellion.

East Timor gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 marred by violence. Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Many thousands of East Timorese died during the brutal occupation that followed. (Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in Canberra; Writing by Sugita Katyal; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)