Sat, 04 Jan 2003

Tribunal reveals Theys' final moments

Ainur R. Sophiaan, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

The first trial for the murder of Papuan separatist leader Theys Hiyo Eluay opened on Friday in Surabaya, East Java, with military prosecutors describing the events leading up to Theys' slaying.

Facing the court martial were four members of the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus): Papua Kopassus commander Lt. Col. Hartomo, Capt. Rionardo, Chief Sgt. Asrial, and Chief Pvt. Achmad Zulfahmi.

Three other Kopassus defendants -- Maj. Donny Hutabarat, First Lt. Agus Suprianto, First Sgt. Lorensius -- also went on trial separately on Friday.

Prosecutors charged the first four soldiers with the murder of Theys on Nov. 10, 2001. He was found dead a day later. Theys was last seen on Nov. 10 when he attended the commemoration of National Heroes' Day at Kopassus headquarters in the Papuan capital Jayapura.

Antara reported that according to the book of evidence, which was read out during the trial by military prosecutor Maj. Haryanto, Theys attended a dinner party held by Kopassus commander Hartomo on Nov. 10.

At the time, Hartomo found out that Theys planned to reaffirm Papuan independence during an event marking the anniversary of Papua's self-declared independence on Dec. 1.

Hartomo ordered Donny to anticipate the plan, telling him however not to overreact.

Donny then instructed Agus and Zulfahmi to accompany Theys in his Kijang minivan as he drove home to the town of Sentani.

The two soldiers were later to be picked up by Donny, Rionardo, Asrial and Lorensius in another car.

In Theys' car, Agus led the conversation with questions about his plan to reaffirm Papuan independence on Dec. 1. Agus told him to cancel it, reasoning that Jakarta had already granted Papua a special autonomy package.

But Theys insisted on reaffirming Papua's independence proclamation. He said the people of Papua did not trust the Indonesian government.

Zulfahmi entered the conservation and charged that Theys was betraying the nation to which Theys shouted, "Hey, you bastard!"

This led Theys' driver Ariestoteles to tell the two soldiers to back off or else he would shout "thief" to attract locals to the scene.

Ariestoteles then stopped the Kijang, opened the door and shouted "thief!". Theys began shouting too. The driver somehow ran away although Agus tried but failed to get hold of his arm. He is still missing but presumed dead.

The Kijang continued its ride without Ariestoteles. As the second car caught up, Agus ordered Asrial to take over the wheel. He told Asrial to drive the Kijang to Sentani but first wanted to return to the spot where Ariestoteles escaped.

When they arrived, they saw a crowd already gathering in the area and so decided to drive toward the town of Koya. It was not clear what made them decide to change the route.

Inside the Kijang, Theys kept on screaming. Zulfahmi clamped his hand over Theys' mouth to keep him quiet. He repeated this three times along the ride and Theys died of suffocation.

The soldiers left Theys' body and the car at a deserted section of a road in central Koya at 12:30 a.m. local time -- more than four hours after the Papuan independence leader left the Kopassus compound. The second car picked the three soldiers up as they were walking in the town.

A post mortem in Jayapura found bruises on Theys' nose and lower lips, his eyes were protruding and also his tongue by about two centimeters.

The soldiers reported the incident to their commander Hartomo who ordered them to get some rest. Hartomo however did not pass the report on to his superior. Instead he watched over the security situation after Theys death while also searching for information on the incident.

The soldiers face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty. Their trial will resume on Friday next week.

Kopassus' involvement in the killing of Theys comes at a time when its image is already at a low point.

Rights activists have blamed the special unit for a series of human rights abuses in conflict areas like Aceh and Maluku.

Kopassus was also behind the series of kidnappings of anti- Soeharto activists during the 1998 reform movement.