New Zealand soldier is shot dead in East Timor

A New Zealand soldier was shot dead by suspected proIndonesian militia in East Timor yesterday, the first combat casualty since a United Nations-backed peace-keeping team arrived in September, officials said.

A New Zealand soldier was shot dead by suspected proIndonesian militia in East Timor yesterday, the first combat casualty since a United Nations-backed peace-keeping team arrived in September, officials said.

"Private Leonard William Manning died as a result of a gunshot wound in an exchange of fire with an armed group," said Captain Dan Hurren, an Australian officer stationed inSuai, a town not far from the border with the Indonesian West Timor.

Xanana Gusmao, the East Timor independence leader, who is in Bangkok for a regional meeting, said the soldier's death was a threat to peace and reconciliation in the territory. "We do not want to have more victims in this process," he said.

East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in August, prompting a backlash from sections of the military, police and armed pro-Jakarta militias. About 9,000 UN troops have taken over from the initial Australian-led intervention force sent in to restore order after violence erupted.

Capt Hurren said airborne infantry and reconnaissance helicopters had been mobilised to find the militia group. It was unclear whether the gunmen were based in West Timor.

Two New Zealand peace-keepers have been killed in motor accidents in East Timor, but Pte Manning's death was the first combat casualty suffered by the UN force. (Reuters)

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