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Quintana: burned, but unbroken

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THE face of Carmen Gloria Quintana is still grossly disfigured from two years ago, when witnesses say she was set on fire by Chilean soldiers during an anti-government protest. But Ms. Quintana says working for political change in Chile helps to ease the pain she continues to suffer from the incident.

Quintana, who turns 21 next month, returned home in early July after 22 months of medical treatment in Montreal.

``At first I cried every night and asked why did this have to happen to me,'' recalled Quintana in an interview in her parents home in Los Nogales, a working-class neighborhood of Santiago. ``Now I am using the pain to fight to make sure that it never happens to anyone again.''

Quintana was burned from head to foot on July 2, 1986 as she and fellow protester Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri were en route to an antigovernment demonstration. According to witnesses, they were stopped along the way by soldiers. Around them at the time were protesters who were carrying materials with which they could barricade streets with burning tires. The other youths scattered. Witnesses say the soldiers then carried the Quintana and Mr. DeNegri to another street, where they beat them, doused them with petrol, and set them on fire. After the flames died down, the troops reportedly drove the pair to the edge of Santiago and left them for dead along an isolated road.

Mr. Rojas later died from the burns, but Quintana lived to tell the story after spending several months in a coma.

A military tribunal has been investigating the case for two years. Quintana was able to identify the soldier she thinks was the leader of the patrol in a lineup last year. But the case has been bogged down by technicalities and delays, says Hector Salazar, Quintana's lawyer.

The latest snag is over whether tests on female hair found at the site where Quintana says soldiers left her and Rojas are admissible in court. Investigators first said they could not determine if the hair definitely belonged to Quintana. Lawyer Salazar appealed the decision, calling upon the court investigators to prove the hair was not hers. He won the appeal eight months later and says he is now waiting for the military prosecutor to order new tests.

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