Wed, 16 Apr 2003

Suspected arms thief dies in custody of military

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Yapenas Murib, 35, one of four civilians suspected of involvement in the theft of arms at the a military district headquarters in Wamena on March 4, died on Tuesday.

Yapenas's death caused confusion as he had supposedly no health problems moments before when he reconstructed how he and other suspects helped rebels break into the Army arsenal.

Dr. Setyo Nugroho, who examined Yapenas' body, said the suspect died of a respiratory problem.

Maj. Gen. Nurdin Zainal, chief of the Trikora Military Command overseeing security in the province, confirmed that the suspect died on his way to the general hospital in Wamena at 6:05 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

"Yapenas' body has been handed over to his family for burial, but the investigation into the case will continue," he said, adding that the suspect had developed breathing problems moments after eating lunch after the reconstruction of the crime.

Yapenas, along with three other civilians, was arrested last Wednesday after being implicated in the fatal attack on two on-duty soldiers and the theft of 29 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition from the military district's arsenal in the small town. Two soldiers and a rebel were killed in the attack. Nineteen of the stolen rifles have been recovered.

No information has been released regarding the identities of the three other suspects, nor of the rebels who reportedly stole the arms.

The military is also questioning 20 soldiers on suspicion of an insider job.

The Army has deployed 144 soldiers from the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) and the Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) to help the local military track down and arrest at least 15 rebels who stole the arms.

During military interrogation, Yapenas and three other suspects confessed playing a part in the attack and the arms theft.

Yohanis G. Bonay, coordinator of the coalition of local non- governmental organizations monitoring the Wamena case, said he would send colleagues to Wamena to investigate Yapenas' death.

"I cannot comment at the present, but let us investigate the death to make sure that the suspect was not murdered," he said.