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Mozambique: Opposition Lawyer's Killing Reminds of Violent Past

People lay flowers and pay their respects where constitutional law expert Gilles Cistac was murdered on March 3, 2015 in Maputo, Mozambique.

The shooting death of a top opposition-allied Mozambican lawyer has analysts concerned that this nation's violent past has come back to haunt it. Gilles Cistac was a prominent lawyer and professor who had drawn criticism from government media in recent weeks for supporting an opposition initiative to decentralize power in the resource-rich nation. Friends say his death has caused "shock waves," and has raised many questions about Mozambique's future.

Police and media reports say lawyer and scholar Gilles Cistac was at a popular restaurant on a main boulevard in central Maputo when he was shot several times by unidentified assailants in a passing car on Tuesday morning. He later died of his wounds at Maputo's Central Hospital.

Cistac, 53, was born in France, but had lived in the Southern African nation since 1993 and had taken Mozambican citizenship. He was a law professor at Maputo’s prestigious Eduardo Mondlane University. More recently, he had publicly supported a movement by opposition party Renamo for greater autonomy in the nation’s north and center.

Both Renamo and the ruling Frelimo party have condemned the shooting.

British journalist Paul Fauvet is a longtime resident of Mozambique. He was among a crowd that he estimated to number in the “several hundreds” who visited the crime scene on Tuesday night to lay candles and flowers. He spoke to VOA News via Skype.

“I mean, there’s a sense of shock, shock waves through Maputo society, particularly of course through the academic communities where Cistac worked," said Fauvet.

Fauvet was also a close friend of a prominent Mozambican journalist, Carlos Cardoso, who was killed under similar circumstances in 2000 while investigating a major corruption case. Several suspects in Cardoso’s murder trial said former president Joaquim Chissano's son paid for the killing.

Top journalist and commentator Fernando Lima says Cistac had been recently vilified in social media and in the state-run press for saying that Renamo’s autonomy bid could be justified under the constitution. That, he told VOA, points to a clear, and unsettling, motive.

“I’m convinced the way it was done, it was clearly an assassination. Mr. Cistac is known to be a very, very private person, very concentrated on his academic research, on his teaching at the the university. So one cannot argue that it could be something of a domestic issue, or another crime issue, because here, very often people are killed under business arguments, especially on the drug (trade). It’s not known of any kind of controversial connection to the underworld of crime and Mr. Cistac. … It’s clearly the fact that he the fact that he stood up for the decentralization of the country," said Lima.

Mozambique was torn apart by a lengthy, brutal civil war that ended in 1992. Since then, the discovery of massive gas reserves has bolstered its image as an investment destination. Mozambique’s largely peaceful October elections were seen as a step forward on its path towards becoming an African energy giant.

Lima says he is concerned the event could be a blow to Mozambique’s image as an up-and-coming democracy eager to shed its violent past and draw in much-needed investment.

“It’s very sad, because 15 years ago the killing of journalist Carlos Cardoso provoked big, big damage on the image of our country and our institutions. And we thought that the country and its institutions, the government, the ruling party, had learned a lesson so that these kinds of things would never happen again. So here we are, again, with an assassination with political motivations. And this is very, very bad for the image of this country," he said.

And, he said, Cistac’s death leaves a void in the nation’s legal system.

“In a country with such a lack of resources, I think all Mozambicans should be proud of such an intellectual man as Gilles Cistac. And a very very important thing: this country does not have many judges and lawyers. But I can say for sure that the majority of lawyers and judges and prosecutors in this country have been trained by Professor Gilles Cistac," said Lima.

It is a loss, he said, that will hurt more than one family, one university, one political party. It could, he said, wound an entire nation that is struggling to heal its own deep scars.

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