Fri, 03 Dec 1999

Morning Star flag hoisting in Timika leaves 55 injured

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (JP): Fifty-five people were injured when security personnel opened fire on a crowd of about 3,000 people in Timika, Irian Jaya on Thursday after they attempted to stop police from lowering the separatist West Papua Morning Star flag.

Paulus Kanonggopme, a member of the Lemasa Foundation dealing with human rights in the easternmost province, told The Jakarta Post that 12 of the victims were still undergoing intensive medical treatment for serious injuries at two hospitals in Tembagapura, while the rest were released.

Paulus said the incident occurred when about 1,000 policemen from the National Police's Mobile Brigade tried to disperse a crowd gathered in a Catholic Church compound to hoist the separatist flag.

"After several warning shots, security personnel opened fire on the crowd to force their way through to pull down the flag," he said, while arguing that the incident was a serious human rights violation and that his foundation would report it to the National Commission on Human Rights for further investigation.

Irian Jaya Provincial Police chief Brig. Gen. S.Y. Wenas said several victims suffered fractures in their arms and legs after being beaten with sticks by security personnel.

"I have ordered the Timika Police to investigate police officers who exerted violence in the incident," he said in the provincial capital.

Supporters of the separatist organization have flown the Morning Star flag since Wednesday to commemorate the separatist movement's 33rd anniversary.

Timika Regent Titus O. Potereyao confirmed the incident and said security personnel used force because the crowd ignored orders to pull down the flag and disperse. He insisted the hoisting of the separatist organization's flag was against the law.

The Institution of Human Rights Studies and Advocacy reported that three Irianese, suspected of being behind the flag-hoisting, were being held at the Timika Police Precinct for further investigation.

The non-governmental organization also reported that until late night, the crowd was still at the church complex and would not disperse until the three were released.

The three were identified as Hiskia Merarabeam, Isak Ondowame and Yosepha Alomang.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Sudrajat, the chief spokesman for the Indonesian Military (TNI), commenting on Wednesday's mass flag hoisting said that it was still within "tolerable limits in the context of democracy".

He said the military would take strict action if the separatist movement goes further and demands a self-determination vote.

Sudrajat insisted the territory's integration with Indonesia gained international recognition after it was under the facilitation of the United Nations in 1963. (eba/rms)