Wounded East Timor president speaks for first time

Other News Materials 12 March 2008 07:33 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuter )- East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, critically wounded in an assassination attempt in February, spoke publicly for the first time on Wednesday, thanking medical staff for saving his life.

Ramos-Horta said he would not issue a political statement but wanted to use the week before Easter to thank world and church leaders for supporting him after the assassination bid by rebels.

The public statement was filmed at a hospital in northern Australia, with Ramos-Horta seated in a chair with an East Timor flag draped behind him.

The president, who suffered serious gunshot wounds which required five surgeries, looked well and spoke clearly, occasionally clearing his voice.

"Today is the first time I am able to speak publicly, although I am reframing from making a political speech," Ramos-Horta said.

"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."

Rebels ambushed Ramos-Horta during an early morning walk on February 11, and also attacked Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Ramos-Horta was shot several times in the attack in which rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed, while Gusmao escaped unharmed in the separate attack.

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

"Here in Darwin I have been very well looked after by everyone...even the humble cleaners, the nurses, the doctors. To them I thank," he said.

Arrest warrants were issued against 17 people suspected of involvement in the attacks, including Gastao Salsinha, who took command of rebel soldiers after Reinado.

Gusmao said on Monday that he hoped a military exercise to round up the remaining rebels, including Salsinha, would end this week. He warned Salsinha to surrender or face the consequences.