Fri, 11 Apr 2003

Papuan leaders oppose any military operations

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Papuan religious leaders have expressed regret over the deaths of two soldiers and an alleged separatist rebel during the theft of weapons from a military base in Wamena last Friday, but called on the central government not to use it as a reason to launch another military operation in the province.

The leaders, in a joint statement released Thursday, said previous military operations had resulted in the deaths of thousands of unarmed civilians.

The statement was signed by Jayapura Bishop Mgr. Leo Laba Ladjar OFM Cap, Papuan Protestant Church Synod (GPDP) chairman Rev. Andreas Ayomi, Indonesian Protestant Church Synod Secretary General Rev. Berotabui, Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) local chapter chairman Zubaer Hussein and Indonesian Hindhu Darma Association (PHDI) local chapter chairman I Nyoman Sudha.

The Indonesian Military has deployed 144 soldiers from the Army's feared Special Forces (Kopassus) and Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) to Wamena to help the local military in the hunt for the rebels, who the Army claim stole 29 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Nineteen of the stolen rifles have been recovered, including six weapons found at the Wamena military district headquarters, the very place where the rifles were stolen.

The military suspects the involvement of Army soldiers from the local military in the burglary. An investigation is ongoing.

Jayapura Archbishop Mgr. Leo Laba Ladjar, who spoke on behalf of the religious leaders during a press conference on Thursday, said the military operation to find the rebels should not target civilians, as had happened in the past.

"The soldiers should be professional in conducting the operation to avoid unrest and prejudice among the people," he said, saying the gunfight during the botched burglary had damaged chances for peace that all sides were trying to build in the province.

He said the soldiers should not be suspicious of locals or accuse them of collaborating with the thieves as they did after rebel attacks on military offices in Wasior and Abepura in 2001.

"We express our deep concern that such military operations claimed civilian lives in the past," the bishop said.

Leo said the burglary should not be used as an excuse for the government to launch a major military operation as it has in the past.

Thousands of civilians were killed when former president Soeharto's New Order regime launched a military operation in the province to quell the Free Papua Movement (OPM) during the 1980s and 1990s.

Rampant human rights abuses during the New Order era have made the Papuan issue more complicated.

The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) granted the province special autonomy in 2001.