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By Lindsay Murdoch

IRIAN JAYA (November 17, 1998 - Sydney Morning Herald/Kabar Irian)---Church and human rights groups are arranging to send a team of investigators to the remote island of Biak in Irian Jaya to investigate a massacre and atrocities allegedly committed by Indonesian soldiers.

The team will include a representative of the government-appointed Indonesian Human Rights Commission, which has already made preliminary inquiries into the reports.

The Reverend Phil Erari, a spokesman for the Indonesian Council of Churches in Jakarta, said yesterday that the investigators would attempt to document how many people were missing and interview witnesses.

Church officials hope the team's report, expected to be completed by next month, will put pressure on the Jakarta Government to order the military to take action against any soldiers and officers found to be responsible for the atrocities.

Evidence gathered by the team will be presented to Indonesia's President, Dr. B.J. Habibie, during proposed talks in January with Irian Jaya community and church leaders.

The Herald reported last Saturday that violence broke out on the island on July 6 when Indonesian troops were brought in to crush defiant villagers who had raised the "morning star," the flag of the West Papua independence movement.

Witnesses and church representatives have given graphic accounts of shootings, torture, bashings and rapes, including the dumping at sea of dozens of villagers.

Mr. Erari said that while the extent of atrocities had not been established because people were too afraid to talk, "We believe a full, impartial investigation would reveal more than 100 deaths."

The Australian Government has expressed its concern about emerging evidence that security forces committed serious human rights abuses on the island off western New Guinea.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said that despite uncertainty about the facts, "there is sufficient evidence to warrant deep concern" about what took place.

The Foreign Minister, Mr. Downer, raised the government's worries about the violence in a meeting with Dr. Habibie in Jakarta a few days after the flag-raising on Biak. But this was before the extent of the atrocities was known and before bodies had started washing up on the island's coast.

An Australian couple who were in Biak at the time of the crackdown said they would cooperate with any proper inquiry that was independent of the Indonesian military.

The couple, Mr. Paul Meixner and Ms. Rebecca Casey, had secretly recorded an account of the massacre.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") For assistance, please e-mail: (auto-responder) or World Wide Web:

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