Wed, 07 May 2003

Prime suspect named in Papua raid

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Police named an alleged commander of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) as a key suspect in last month's armed robbery at the Wamena military district arsenal which left three men dead and dozens of rifles missing.

Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo said on Tuesday that alleged OPM commander Michael Haselo, 35, had likely planned the arms burglary.

Michael was one of seven alleged OPM members arrested, along with nine Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers in Wamena for the burglary. Police said they had moved Michael from the Wamena district police station to the Jayapura police station on April 29 for further questioning.

"We moved only one (suspect) because we believe that he was the mastermind behind the attack," Budi told reporters.

Police suspect that OPM rebels were behind the arms raid, and possibly aided by a group of TNI soldiers.

Michael, Budi said, had told the police that he was the OPM commander for Wamena, holding the rank of brigadier general.

He added that Michael might have been involved in other OPM- related cases in Wamena, including a violent riot in 2000.

"So there are many things that we want to find out from him, which is also why we moved him to police headquarters in Papua," he explained.

The raid against the Wamena arsenal on April 4, left two soldiers and one suspected OPM rebel dead. At least 13 M-16 rifles, 13 SP-1 rifles and three PM rifles along with thousands of rounds of ammunition were taken by the robbers.

The police investigators, however, also suspected several members of the military stationed at Wamena, due to the ease with which the group had pulled off the raid.

The military police unit of the Trikora Military Command, which oversees Papua, has arrested nine soldiers. They said three soldiers might have helped directly in the theft, while the other six were charged with negligence.

Twenty-one of the 29 stolen rifles have been recovered in an operation involving 144 soldiers from the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) and the Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad). They were flown in from Jakarta to help the local military in the hunt for the weapons.

A lawyer representing Michael dismissed police claims that his client was the mastermind behind the attack.

"How could he possibly have been the mastermind? I have witnesses who saw Michael Haselo sleeping at the time (of the attack)," said lawyer Iwan K. Nidoen.

He also refuted police claims that they had nabbed Michael, saying the alleged OPM commander actually turned himself in to show that he was innocent after he learned that the police were searching for him.

Iwan added that, just because Michael claimed to be the Wamena commander of OPM did not mean that he masterminded the raid.