On Monday 28 December Kuka Lebre was shot and killed, and 2009 ended in tragedy for the Lebre family.
Baldir Cesar do Nascimento Lebre Correia, known by his friends and family as “Kuka”, was just 25 years old.
It is bitter irony that Kuka survived the Santa Cruz massacre as a 7 year old in 1991. During this event 200-300 protesters were gunned down and killed at a funeral procession for another young man, killed by the police of the occupying power – President Suharto's Indonesia. Having survived this ordeal and living to see independence from Indonesia, Kuka fell victim to his own community's police service.
Since the Indonesian invasion in 1975 a lot of young people have suffered from violent death in the former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste, but Kuka's passing, while mundane in some ways, is unique in others.
The blogosphere first became aware of Kuka's death when Timor-Leste's largest Opposition Party, the Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN) issued a press release via its Parliamentary bench blog, Bancada FRETILIN, calling for an investigation into a possible police shooting.
This press release, issued on Tuesday 29 December 2009.
Tuir informasaun neebe bancada parlamentar FRETILIN simu, ohin dader jovem ida mate tanba hetan tiru horikalan iha insidente violensia neebe mosu iha festa ida nia laran iha salaun Delta Nova, Delta Comoro, Dili. Jovem ida tan hetan tiru kanek no baixa hela iha Hospital Nasional Guido Valadares iha Dili. Iha tempo hanesan agentes PNTL tenke tu’un ba fatin neeba halo intervensaun atu hapara konflitu violente neebe mosu iha festa fatin.
According to information that the FRETILIN bench has received this morning one youth was killed last evening as a result of being shot during a violent incident during a party at the Delta Nova Rooms, Delta Comoro, Dili. One other youth was shot and wounded and remains in Guido Valadares National Hospital Dili.
The press release continued by stating that:
Ita hare ona to’o ohin loron katak investigasaun barak ba atuasaun polisial la lao to’o hotu, la iha kredibilidade, no la iha resultadu ba familia no vitima sira.
Until the present day we have witnessed that many investigations into police actions do not reach completion, lack credibility, and provide no results for victims and their families.
On New Year's Day 2010 the Timor Lorosea Nacao blog posted press coverage from one of Dili's big daily newspapers on Kuka's death. In this posting the Timor Post describes what are the reported circumstance of Kuka's killing. While the investigation is under way it appears as though Kuka was shot by Timorese police (PNTL) officers responding to a violent clash at the Delta Nova party/conference rooms in western Dili.
Interestingly, the Delta Nova is where well heeled Timorese have wedding parties and other special events – suggesting it was an important crowd of people present. Kuka was also the son of an important and well known family based in Bemori, central Dili. In a strange twist of fate Kuka is the nephew of Fransisco Guterres, Secretary of State for Security – the politician responsible for the police.
The Timor Post, as put online by Timor Lorosae Nacao, features this headline,
Baldir Mate ho Bala Polisia: Familia Ejiji Team Investigasaun Independente
Baldir Dead by Police Bullet: Family Demands Independent Investigation Team
The story states that at 2300 28 December Kuka was shot during a violent incident in which police had been called to restore order. According to the report a police officer shot the unarmed Kuka during the affair. Despite being shot in the stomach Kuka survived the initial wound but was not however taken immediately to hospital as the police had blockaded the premises. According to an interview with Kuka's brother, the Timor Post reports that Kuka was eventually taken to the national hospital at 2355 but died on the operating table at approximately 0130 29 December.
Dili District Commander Pedro Belo later confirmed that a police officer had in fact shot Kuka, and the Secretary of State for Security Fransisco Guterres announced an investigation. Accident, unprofessional or malicious act – the matter of PNTL carrying, pointing and firing weapons without any consequence, while not common, is regular in Timor-Leste.
On 4 December 2009 Tempo Semanal, a national weekly newspaper, video blogged an interview with a very annoyed maverick FRETILIN Member of Parliament, David Ximenes. Ximenes was angry over the fact that a PNTL officer had shot and seriously injured a youth a party the evening before.
The matter of how the Timorese police procures, stores, manages and uses its firearms is of longstanding and contentious debate in Timor-Leste. Critically, when weapons are misused penalties are generally not forthcoming.
On 28 November 2002 PNTL shot and killed a youth at a demonstration outside the main police station in the eastern town of Baucau. A week later on 4 December 2002 a riot occured in Dili and several people were shot dead by PNTL. In 2006 PNTL and rogue elements of PNTL shot and killed a number of people in the Political Crisis of that year. Few if any police officers have been penalised for any of these, and other similar events.
One has to question if the killing of Kuka, a prominent and popular youth, will cause the Timorese establishment to question the matter of how guns are managed in Timor-Leste. It would appear from the level of concern that it might.
Interestingly, the same twitterer and other sources say that President Jose Ramos-Horta suggested that the Government could be sued if the officer is found at fault.
Below: Some photos from Kuka's family home before the funeral. They tell a story of public attitudes towards the police in Timor-Leste.