Senior East Timor rebel soldier surrenders
( Reuters ) - A senior East Timorese rebel soldier accused of being involved in last month's attacks on the tiny country's president and prime minister, surrendered on Sunday.
Amaro da Costa, who handed in two automatic weapons when he surrendered, said he had taken part in the attack on the president without elaborating on his role.
"I want to surrender because I want the nation to develop and so that people can live peacefully," he told a news conference.
Rebels attacked the home of President Jose Ramos-Horta on February 11, seriously wounding him during a gunfight. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped unhurt in a separate attack the same morning.
The government said it was close to concluding a ceasefire with the remaining rebels.
East Timor, Asia's youngest nation, has been under a state of emergency since the attacks. The country has been unable to achieve stability since hard-won independence in 2002.
The army tore apart along regional lines in 2006, when about 600 soldiers were sacked, triggering factional violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes.
Foreign troops were sent to restore order in the former Portuguese colony of about one million people, which gained full independence from Indonesia after a U.N.-sponsored vote in 1999 that was marred by violence.
Following the February assaults, Gusmao ordered the military and police to form a joint command to arrest followers of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in the raid against Ramos-Horta.
Da Costa, also known as Susar, surrendered in Turiscai, 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital Dili, Filomeno Paixao, head of the joint command, told a news conference on Sunday.
Arrest warrants have been issued against 17 people suspected of involvement in the attack, including Gastao Salsinha, who took command of rebel soldiers after Reinado was killed.
Paixao later said he had spoken to the rebel leader and the joint command was willing to accept a proposal to stop operations so his group could surrender.
"I just contacted Salsinha. He proposed suspending operations against them so that he can mobilize his forces to surrender," Paixao said in an interview with East Timor television.
The U.N. Security Council last week extended for another year the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in East Timor, saying the security and humanitarian situation in the country remained fragile.