Subject: SCMP: Timor fighter turns his venom on its leaders

South China Morning Post March 6, 2003

Timor fighter turns his venom on its leaders

A former rebel known as 'boa constrictor' is talking about a possible new civil war

CHRIS MCCALL in Laivai, East Timor

L7 is disgusted with East Timor's government. Its leaders ran away from war to save their skins, he said, and are now back to squabble over the spoils of independence.

"They went away and they did nothing for this country," he said. "In the end Falintil struggled on its own. In the end Timor was independent."

A magical kakaluk, an amulet of wood and metal circles, hangs prominently round his neck. The man they call the "great boa constrictor" is a force to be reckoned with in East Timorese politics, even though he is officially out of politics these days. He cannot recall how many Indonesian soldiers he killed while with the resistance, but it was a lot, he says.

Several of his fingers are missing, blown off when a grenade he was making prematurely exploded. His body is covered with old bullet wounds. He claims several ricocheted off him without piercing his skin. Many East Timorese believe he has special powers.

And now, farming his traditional lands to the east of the second city, Baucau, he has become a focal point of dissent against the government. Go anywhere in East Timor, cite the name "L7", and no one will bother you, he claims.

The government has made several attempts to bring him on board, offering him official posts, which he has refused. Behind him is the quasi-religious clandestine movement Sagrada Familia, which he founded over a decade ago to undermine Indonesian propaganda against the resistance. It still exists and L7's supporters have been accused of stirring up riots that hit Baucau and Dili last year. L7 says the claims are lies and the ones who should be answering questions are the former exiles like Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

"Timor is independent so they have dared to come back. But at that time, when Indonesia invaded, they were scared of war. They were scared of dying," he said.

Now 59, L7's real name is Cornelio Gama. A childhood friend of Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, he entered the Portuguese military in 1972 but later joined the resistance to fight against the Indonesian invaders. He spent 24 years in the bush.

Among L7's other claims is that current military chief Taur Matan Ruak owes his life to him. He says the resistance leader at one stage "surrendered" to Indonesian forces with weaponry, running back to Falintil a few months later when the Indonesians tried to kill him. He was taken in by L7.

"The other Falintil said he had to be killed, because he brought a lot of weapons and gave them to Indonesia," said L7. Despite their long association, feelings between the two men are not warm.

Mr Matan Ruak says some of L7's claims are not true. He himself did not surrender to the Indonesians, he says, but was captured. And as for L7's claims to have "hundreds" of Falintil supporters, Mr Matan Ruak says Falintil only had 900 fighters when the war ended in 1999. Of those, 600 have entered the new army and of the remaining 300, many have retired due to old age.

L7 was a good fighter, Mr Matan Ruak says, but lacked discipline.

But exactly what the political views of L7 and his supporters might be have become a moot point in the new East Timor. No one is totally sure. L7 says a new civil war is possible in East Timor if the government is not wise. People are going hungry, he says, and veterans like himself have not been properly looked after

As L7 ate a simple lunch at a relative's house, with a shiny watch on his wrist, a government four-wheel drive was parked outside the house. According to one of his supporters, it has been provided for L7's personal use, even though he officially holds no government post.


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