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Dili hero vanishes after clash with police

Melbourne Age - August 7, 2004

Jill Jolliffe, Dili – "I saw seven police firing their pistols at L-7, a volley of bullets directed at his legs. It would be surprising if he hadn't been hit."

This is how bodyguard Oan Kiak describes his last glimpse of Cornelio Gama, the charismatic former guerilla known as L-7, who has been missing since violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Dili on July 20.

Family and supporters fear Mr Gama may be in hiding, wounded. "We want answers," his niece Alice Gama said. "If he's dead, we want them to return the body, the Government and police must tell us if he's alive or dead."

Whatever has happened, the issue threatens more conflict between war veterans and the increasingly authoritarian East Timor Government. The bravery of L-7, a colourful figure who boasts magical powers, was legendary during the country's 24-year fight against the Indonesian army.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, a childhood friend of the missing hero, has worked frantically this week to find him, without success.

The July 20 demonstration was called by the newly formed National Union of Resistance Staff and Veterans. It claims veterans are excluded from power in post-independent Timor, and is demanding a cabinet reshuffle, including dismissal of unpopular Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato.

Police were criticised soon after the rally for beatings and excessive use of tear gas, but Oan Kiak's claim that they also used pistols, including against L-7, has startled human rights observers.

UN mission head Sukehiro Hasegawa said Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had assured him no guns had been used. The Prime Minister had explained that he did not allow officers to carry guns and that tear gas was used so that crowds could be dispersed without hurting anybody.

Mr Kiak was one of five bodyguards protecting L-7 but became separated from the others after being overcome by tear gas. "They fired simultaneously at him from about 100 metres, then ran up and dragged him out of the car, beating him over the head with truncheons," he said.

Two other demonstrators, one with what he says is a bullet wound in a leg, said police fired simultaneously, laying one arm over the other to steady their aim.