Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Papua clash takes further toll

Netty Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

A clash involving hundreds of people in favor of and against the creation of a new province in central Papua dragged on for a third consecutive day on Monday, claiming another life.

Tinus Mom became the second fatality within 24 hours, in the furious dispute between opposing groups that fought with traditional spears and arrows in Timika, also the home to giant American mining company Freeport. Tinus, an advocate of the new province, died when an arrow pierced his chest on the right-hand side.

During the previous night, the melee had resulted in the death of a protester of the proposed new province, identified as Jemi Kibak.

The new clash broke out at around 9 a.m. local time (7 a.m. Jakarta time), despite the fact that police had been on guard since Saturday, when the first brawl erupted.

During the street battle on Monday, protesters also vandalized the Graha Tata Disanntara building belonging to businessman Abdul Latief, which served as the new province's administration office. Many of the property's windows were broken, as it was almost completely razed by fire.

The building was tightly guarded by supporters of the new province.

During the clash, the protesters also demolished a signboard for the new province that had been put up in front of the office. They also stoned speaker of the Mimika legislative council Andreas Anggaibak when he struggled to keep the board erect.

Anggaibak had marked the establishment of Central Irian Jaya by unveiling on Saturday a ceremonial map showing the location of the new governor's office in Timika.

Another 35 people from both camps were severely injured in the fighting, which ended after more than two hours.

A witness who was near the site of the incident, Ellya Takaendengan, said the attack was apparently launched in revenge for the death of a protester on Sunday.

Police rushed to the scene after the rowdy battle on Monday and immediately secured the area afterwards.

"It was quite difficult to separate the two rival camps," said an officer, Sgt. Nyoman.

The police questioned several witnesses, including journalists Robin Manurung from state radio RRI and P. Siagian from Papua Post daily.

Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Daud Sihombing alleged a certain party from Jakarta had instigated the riot.

He said the masterminds of the clash had also provoked sectarian clashes in the Maluku capital, Ambon, and the Central Sulawesi town, Poso.

Police did not name any suspect but maintained a red alert status for the town.

Separately, in the Jayapura capital, Papua, some 200 students from the Communication Forum of Central Mountain Students (FKMPT) demanded that the Papua provincial administration reject the central government's move to split the province, saying it went against the aspirations of people in the nation's easternmost province.

Papua, home to about 2.3 million people, is blessed with rich natural resources, but security has become a big concern here for decades due to the presence of a separatist movement.

Heated debate over partition of the most extensive province in the country began after President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued a decree to speed up the formation process of new provinces in Papua, a process that was decided upon during the last few months of the transitional government of president B.J. Habibie in 1999.

The decree came just after the government passed the law on special autonomy for Papua, which stipulates that any crucial decision on the province requires consultation with the Papuan People's Assembly, which has not yet become operational.

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