Wed, 15 Mar 2000

TNI accused of abusing Red Cross emblem

JAKARTA (JP): The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accused the Indonesian Military (TNI) on Tuesday of abusing the Red Cross emblem during a 1996 raid to release hostages in Irian Jaya.

ICRC Director General Paul Grossrieder said the conclusions of an inquiry commissioned by the ICRC found that "military forces involved in the operation made perfidious use of the ICRC's role by employing a white helicopter that could have been perceived by the local population as an ICRC helicopter".

The ICRC appointed an independent consultant named Piotr Obuchowicz to lead a team to look into the May 1996 incident when the Army's Special Force (Kopassus) raided an Irianese rebel hideout in Geselama mountain to free 13 researchers who were held hostage for nearly five months.

Kopassus, which was at the time led by Lt. Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto, were able to free eleven hostages. Two died in the rescue.

But a report from Irian Jaya's Institute for Policy and Human Rights Advocacy (Elsam) chapter alleged that ICRC insignias and members were involved in the attack.

The report was then used as a basis for a documentary titled Blood on the Cross released in July last year.

It was following the release of this documentary that ICRC then commissioned an investigation.

The inquiry team visited Indonesia in October.

The final report, which alleged that TNI had misused the ICRC logo, was presented to the ICRC some three months ago.

"Use of the Red Cross emblem is a serious violation of humanitarian law," Grossrieder, who was on a 10-day visit here, said.

He added the report vindicated that ICRC members were not involved in the raid.

"It's a little bit late, I have to admit," Grossrieder said about the report, which cleared ICRC of any wrongdoing.

"We should have done it before, but the ICRC probably underestimated the seriousness of the problem at the time," Grossrieder said.

Grossrieder said the ICRC had also presented the report to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 7 in a bid to seek clarification on the matter.

"We need to seek clarification from the Indonesian government as we (ICRC) were declared clean in the investigation," Grossrieder said.

However, the ministry has not given a response yet.

Officials from both the ministry and TNI could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.


In a separate development, the spokesman for the Irian Jaya Governor's office, F.X. Soeryanto, said at least 170 Irianese living in Papua New Guinea (PNG) would return home to Merauke regency by the end of this month.

"They are returning out of their own desire and not because of any pressure," Soeryanto told The Jakarta Post.

Soeryanto claimed that a total of 903 Irianese in Papua New Guinea had also decided to return home. However, no timeframe was given.

The returning villagers have reportedly lived in Papua New Guinea for several years after they were forced to flee their homes in Mindiptanah district near the border when a clash erupted between security forces and the Irianese separatist group, the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Soeryanto said the people would be repatriated with the help of the Mission Association Fellowship (MAF).

He said MAF had scheduled 12 flights using a Twin Otter plane to transport the returning villagers from Kiungga, Papua New Guinea, to Mindiptanah.

Soeryanto added that local authorities were also assessing the necessary facilities for their return, such as schools, health clinics and roads.

"The local government has been ready to receive the villagers since last year," he said. (eba/emf)