Thu, 09 Nov 2000

Police arrest Papua task force chief

JAKARTA (JP): Tension gripped Jayapura, Irian Jaya on Wednesday following the overnight arrest of 29-year-old Alex Baransano, chief of Jayapura's proindependence Papua taskforce after he was declared a suspect in an extortion case.

"Alex Baransano is being detained at Jayapura Police Precinct after we found sufficient evidence of him extorting money from locals and vendors near the Art Center building on Jl. Irian," provincial Police Operational and Control Unit chief Sr. Supt. M. Kusnadi told The Jakarta Post by telephone from Jayapura.

"We received reports and complaints that civilian guards have threatened and extorted money since they themselves had no money to support their activities," the officer said.

Alex Baransano often forcibly collected Rp 10,000 per vendor or from locals living near the art building, he claimed.

Baransano is being charged under Article 368 for extortion, which carries a maximum sentence of nine years.

The Art Center has been commandeered by the taskforce who have hoisted the Morning Star separatist flag there.

Provincial authorities want the old building to function again as a government-owned cultural art center.

But proindependence leaders, however, claim that the cultural center belongs to the people as it was at this venue that the supposed declaration of independence was made in 1961.

Following the arrest the situation in Jayapura reportedly remained tense as market and business activities temporarily halted on Wednesday.

Hundreds of taskforce members protested the arrest in front of the Jayapura Police Precinct on Tuesday night, demanding Baransano's release.

The protest intensified until midday Wednesday and almost broke into a clash before the chairman of the Papuan Council Presidium (PDP) Theys Hiyo Eluay showed up at the precinct asking about Baransano's status.

Theys reportedly asked the civilian guards to go back to their base at the Art Center building, which is only about 200 meters from the precinct.

The military and the police have intensified security ahead of Dec. 1, the date the Presidium have claimed that they would officially declare Papua independence. (edt)