Anne Barker – For a man held up as a national hero, relatively little is written about Nicolau dos Reis Lobato – especially outside East Timor. But some Timorese are hoping one chapter – about Lobato's death – might soon be complete.
He was the country's first prime minister after East Timor declared independence in 1975, a year after Portugal withdrew as its colonial power.
But he held the job for just nine days. In late 1975, Indonesian forces invaded and occupied East Timor as its 27th province for the next quarter of a century.
Lobato was shot dead in 1978 in the mountains outside Dili by Indonesian forces, led by then-Lieutenant Prabowo Subianto, who married but later divorced the daughter of Indonesian president Suharto.
It would be 24 years before another East Timorese succeeded Lobato as prime minister – Mari Alkatiri, the same man re-elected to the job last year.
In the years since, successive governments in Dili have refused to let Lobato's name disappear. The international airport in Dili is named after him, as is the presidential palace. There are statues of him in and outside the capital.
What happened to Lobato's body?
And yet, while his name lives on, Lobato's death continues to strain relations between the tiny nation and its powerful neighbour. Among the most difficult issues is the mystery of what happened to Lobato's body.
Now, the Alkatiri Government is leading a new push to recover his remains so Lobato can finally be given a proper burial and traditional ceremony.
East Timor's Foreign Minister Aurelio Guterres raised the matter on a recent visit to Jakarta. But so sensitive is the subject, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry denies the discussion took place.
But a senior diplomat at East Timor's embassy in Jakarta confirmed the request was made, and Indonesia stood "ready to help". However, an Australian academic said Indonesia has made similar promises before that have come to nothing.
"They have been promising this for a while," said Monash University's Sara Niner, who has written several historic accounts of East Timor. "This is an ongoing process."
Not surprisingly, much of East Timor's gruesome history under Indonesian occupation remains off-limits, despite normalised relations between the two countries.
"The rape and murder of [Lobato's] wife by Indonesian forces on Dili wharf is well known but barely spoken about," Dr Niner said.
"His baby son was passed to the sister and brought up in Jakarta under the watchful eye of the Indonesians. Maybe that is the reason they're offering assistance in finding the father now."
Newspapers in both Indonesia and East Timor have long claimed Lobato's body was taken to Indonesia soon after his death and secretly buried. Other reports have speculated the Indonesians seized his head, and left his remains in Dili.
Remains found in PM's backyard thought to be Lobato's
In 2003, when remains without a skull were found in the backyard of Mr Alkatiri's own house in Dili, they were immediately thought to be those of Lobato. The United Nations sent bone fragments to Northern Territory police in Darwin.
It took years to complete forensic testing on them, and they ultimately came back without a clear result. Later tests in Dili by a joint Australian-Argentinian forensic team on samples of the remains were also inconclusive.
"We analysed those remains, and samples were collected and taken for DNA analysis," the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine's Dr Soren Blau said.
"We also were in contact with Rogerio Lobato – Nicolau's brother – who gave permission for this work to be undertaken and provided us with some ante-mortem samples to compare.
"We extracted mitochondrial DNA from those remains. No nuclear DNA survived. The remains were very poorly preserved. But the work done by our Argentinian colleagues showed there was no match."
Nevertheless, Dr Blau said she is optimistic Lobato's remains may yet be recovered.
"Some in East Timor are of the opinion that if only some people in Indonesia would give evidence, that would give more direction to these types of investigations, so time and money is not wasted," she said.
"When we spoke with families, I think many people believe that Indonesia could certainly throw some light on where individuals have been buried."