September 23, 1999
Exhumed body in Panama may be activist priest

                  PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -- Human remains exhumed near Panama City
                  may be those of a Colombian priest detained by the army almost 30 years
                  ago, Panamanian officials said on Thursday.

                  The remains, found during excavations ordered by the Public Prosecutor's
                  Office at a former military base 18 miles (30 km) east of the capital, are
                  thought to be those of the Rev. Hector Gallego, an activist arrested by
                  members of the Panamanian Defense Forces in June 1971.

                  "It is presumed that the remains are those of Father Gallego," Deputy Public
                  Prosecutor Carlos Herrera said, adding the prosecutor's office was awaiting
                  the results of forensic tests.

                  Gallego's unsolved disappearance was the most prominent case of human
                  rights abuse during Panama's 21-year military rule, brought to an end by the
                  1989 U.S. invasion to topple military strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega.

                  The body had injuries consistent with those Gallego was believed to have
                  received during detention, Carlos Lee, a leading prosecution lawyer
                  connected to the case, told Reuters.

                  "The remains are those of a man who had been buried for more than 20
                  years," Lee said, adding the body had a fractured cranium and showed signs
                  of medical attention.

                  Lee, who represented the Catholic Church at the 1993 trial of three former
                  security force members charged with Gallego's murder, confirmed that
                  excavations at the Tocumen military base were carried out following a tip.

                  The informant could not be identified for security reasons, Lee said. He
                  denied the information came from the two men convicted of Gallego's
                  murder, Melbourne Walker and Nivaldo Madrinan.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters