Mon, 09 Oct 2000

Wamena still tense after bloody riots

JAKARTA (JP): Thousands of mostly migrant settlers were still sheltering in local military and police posts in Wamena as the small hinterland town in Irian Jaya remained tense on Sunday, following major rioting which broke out on Friday.

There were no new outbreaks reported on Sunday as security forces gradually regained control of the situation.

However, commercial activity in the town, located on the Jayawaija plateau, was virtually at a standstill as people were still too afraid to go about their everyday business.

Sources put the death toll as being at least 30, while a statement from the provincial administration issued on Sunday said 28 had died comprising 22 migrants and six indigenous Irianese.

Jayawijaya police chief Supt. D. Surrypati was quoted by Antara as saying that out of the 59 people apprehended in the incident, 26 have been named as suspects.

He said they could be charged under several articles of the Criminal Code, including the article on illegal possession of weapons.

Surrypati said the number of suspects could increase, or even decrease depending on the results of further investigation, adding that police were also hunting down several perpetrators of "killings and rapes" which he alleged were committed by pro- independence supporters.

"The perpetrators in Woama village (on the outskirts of Wamena) were sadistic," he charged. "They made no differentiation and mutilated their victims. Men, women and children!"

Police continue to remain on high alert and have been reinforced by soldiers from the local military command.

The riot erupted on Friday after security forces tried to take down several separatist "Morning Star" flags. Pro-independence supporters, identified by authorities as being from the Papua Taskforce, then clashed with police and later turned their anger against migrants in the area.

In a bid to sooth tensions as a result of the growing calls for independence in Indonesia's easternmost province, the government has allowed the separatist flag to be raised as long as it is flown lower and is smaller than the Indonesian national flag.

Acting Irian Jaya governor Musiran Darmosuwito in a written statement maintained that the lowering of the separatist flag was in accordance with a previous understanding reached at a meeting between the pro-independence Papua Presidium and local military and police, that only one separatist flag would be flown in the regency town, specifically at the local community affairs building.

He pointed out that police had succeeded in peacefully lowering the separatist flag at five other locations on Friday before the disturbances broke out on Jl. Trikora.

Wamena is located 290 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Jayapura.

Meanwhile, 22 migrants who had been held hostage by members of the taskforce since Saturday at Honey Resort, about 2.5 kilometers from Wamena, were released on Sunday.

They were freed after negotiations were conducted by local religious and community leaders. However it is unclear what action was taken against the kidnappers.

One of the freed hostages, Kholifah, was quoted by Antara as saying that they had been treated well despite not being given anything to eat.

Kholifah, who moved to Wamena 12 years ago, said she was abducted as she was returning home from shopping.

The events in Irian Jaya began to draw international reaction on Sunday with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer calling on Indonesia to adopt restraint in dealing with independence moves in Irian Jaya.

"The important message for Australia and for Papua New Guinea to send to West Papua is that we support West Papua remaining part of Indonesia," Downer said as quoted by AP from Canberra.

"We don't want to see the Balkanization of Indonesia. We hope that the differences that exist between Jakarta and various community leaders in West Papua can be handled in an appropriate and peaceful way".

Downer said he was confident Indonesia had learnt from its experience governing East Timor.

"They have to deal with the situation in West Papua with a degree of restraint and appropriate respect for human rights," he said. (mds) Editorial -- Page 4