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Guerilla veteran returns in triumph to Dili

Sydney Morning Herald - August 24, 2004

Jill Jolliffe, Dili – After a month in hiding, the guerilla hero known as L-7 has made a triumphal return to the East Timorese capital and supported claims that police shot at him and other demonstrators on July 20.

"They shot at me but missed, hitting Mario Mendes," said L-7, whose real name is Cornelio Gama. Police also struck him twice with a truncheon after pulling him from a taxi as he tried to leave the veterans rights demonstration, he said.

The original allegations were made by his bodyguard, Oan Kiak, a fortnight ago but were denied by the East Timorese Government.

Mr Gama arrived in Dili on Saturday from the eastern Baucau region with about 1000 supporters to attend a meeting of disgruntled veterans chaired by President Xanana Gusmao.

The Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, and most of his cabinet attended, facing angry criticism from a range of veterans' organisations who are pressing for a cabinet shuffle and the dismissal of the Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato.

On several occasions ministers were booed as Mr Gusmao struggled to cool tempers. In contrast, Mr Gama was cheered when he spoke, and much of the debate revolved around him.

Mr Gusmao had issued more than 2000 invitations to the meeting, some of them to serving members of the newly formed East Timorese Army, who publicly joined forces with jobless veterans for the first time.

An anti-Government petition signed by veterans, including army officers from the rank of major down, was distributed. It called for the restructuring of all state institutions and warned that East Timor was becoming unstable, and things would get worse if the Government did not heed the veterans' demands.

There has been no independent verification of the shooting accusations, although three other people have claimed police fired Glock pistols and teargas at the crowd. They include Mario Mendes, who has a foot wound.

Mr Gama said his bodyguard's allegations were "not a lie", and that he had been in hiding for most of the time since the demonstration because police had been searching for him.

He said that after the demonstration he "changed houses for two or three nights and then went on to Baucau".