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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 06:00 GMT
Troops storm E Timor rebel base
Major Alfredo Reinado (l) in his base, Same
Major Reinado (left) has vowed to fight to the death if necessary
Australian-led peacekeeping troops in East Timor have taken control of a town where a rebel former army officer and his men have been under siege.

The soldiers, backed by helicopters and armoured vehicles, entered the town of Same, 50km (30 miles) south of the capital Dili, under cover of darkness.

Four of the rebel force are reported to have been killed but their leader, Major Alfredo Reinado, escaped.

East Timor's president agreed the raid after Maj Reinado refused to negotiate.

The Timorese authorities are pursuing Maj Reinado for his role in clashes with government forces last May.

He was jailed over his role in the unrest, but escaped in a mass breakout from a Dili prison last August.

Shots fired

Speaking after the raid early on Sunday, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao told reporters that Maj Reinado remained on the run.

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"The international security forces are continuing to hunt for him," he said. "If he surrenders, the country will treat him well."

A spokesman for Australia's defence department told the AFP news agency that none of the International Security Force (ISF) had been injured in the operation, during which shots were fired.

"Four armed Timorese men were killed when they posed an immediate threat to the lives of the ISF men involved," he said.

The raid came three days after Mr Gusmao said he had authorised the Australian-led international forces to track down Maj Reinado.

He accused the rebel soldier of leading a raid on a police post in which more than 20 weapons were stolen.

Instability fears

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had earlier urged Maj Reinado to surrender to the authorities.

Maj Reinado said he might negotiate, but added that he would rather die than be made to surrender by force.

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Jakarta says Maj Reinado's capture would bring relief to the East Timorese government and the international force.

However, there are widespread fears it could reignite violence, our correspondent says.

Instability in East Timor is being fuelled by underlying problems such as tensions between eastern and western parts of the country and disillusionment with the government over high unemployment, she says.

Several people have been killed in clashes in recent weeks.

Next month sees the first presidential elections since East Timor became independent and there are fears that violence could mar the poll, our correspondent adds.




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A gunfight was heard as the forces took control



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