Wed, 10 Sep 2003

Komnas HAM launches probe into rights abuses in Papua

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

A seven-member team from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has begun to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the province of Papua.

The team, led by Safroedin Bahar, arrived in the provincial capital Jayapura on Monday evening to begin a one-week inquiry.

It met separately on Tuesday with Papua Governor Jaap Salossa, church leaders and activists from non-governmental organizations.

The team is scheduled on Wednesday to meet with Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo, Trikora Military commander Maj. Gen. Nurdin Zainal and the deputy speaker of the Papua legislative council, John Ibo.

It will gather data and information in Jayapura, Wamena, Wasior and Timika, where non-governmental organizations have accused security personnel of human rights violations.

The Komnas HAM mission also will look into the murder case of separatist leader Theys Hiyo Eluay, who was found dead in his car on Nov. 11, 2001. Several members of the Army's elite Kopassus force were convicted in the killing.

"We will meet with the Papua police chief to get information on the cases of Theys and Wasior, while from the Trikora Military commander we want to get information about the Wamena case," Safroedin said on Tuesday.

He said the inquiry into the murder of Theys, a former leader of the Papua Presidium Council, would focus on reports of human rights violations.

The team is being assisted by Papuan activists Demianus Wakman, Iwan K Nidoe and Salomina Yaboisembut.

It is divided into two groups -- one to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the areas of Timika and Wasior, the other in examine the murder of Theys and allegations of rights abuses in Wamena, Safroedin said.

In Wamena regency, the team will investigate the validity of a report released by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence stating that at least 16 villagers were killed in the course of a search by soldiers for guns stolen by suspected separatist rebels in April of this year.

The dead were mostly from the village of Kuyawage, according to the June 6 report, which stated that other villagers also died of starvation after fleeing to the forest in order to avoid the soldiers.

The weapons were stolen on April 4 in a raid that left three people, including two soldiers, dead. The attackers made off with 29 firearms, 22 of which were later recovered by the military.

Safroedin said the team would speak with villagers in Kuyawage to obtain first-hand information on the alleged deaths.

"However, I have been told that access to Kuyawage is very difficult as it only can be reached by plane," he said.

In Timika, the Komnas HAM team will look into allegations of human rights violations when two American teachers and one Indonesian were killed in an ambush by gunmen near the U.S. gold and copper mine PT Freeport Indonesia.

Also in Timika, the team is planning to investigate alleged human rights abuses during recent tribal clashes between opponents and supporters of the creation of Central Irian Jaya province.

At least five people were killed in a week of fighting last month after Central Irian Jaya was declared a province.

Members of the Komnas HAM team will also look into a 2001 attack that took place in Wasior. The attack, which left five members of the police's Mobile Brigade dead, was blamed on a group of unidentified gunmen.

Safroedin said the findings of the team would be discussed during a plenary meeting of Komnas HAM in Jakarta.

"The team has been given until Oct. 24 2003 to complete its work. The results of its investigations will be presented during the plenary meeting to draft recommendations for the President and ministers," he said.