OPM CALLS FOR PNG GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGED MURDER OF MAX TAGO

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By Winnis Map

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 11, 1999 - Independent)---Leader of the Operesi Papua Merderka (OPM) Hans Bomai has called on the Papua New Guinea government and human rights organizations, including the International Human Rights Commission, to investigate members of the PNG security forces who were engaged in Operation Selamat to free 11 ethnic Javanese held captive by the rebel movement.

Mr. Bomai's call came after OPM's communication director Max Tago was allegedly shot dead at the Skotchio border post last week.

"I demand an investigation because the killing happened on PNG soil and on government property," Mr. Bomai alleged, explaining that he has confirmed reports (including a photograph from a PNG daily newspaper) that the victim was still alive when taken into custody by members of the PNG security forces. And that was the last time he was seen alive that evening.

He said the police and army personnel involved in the operation have a lot of explaining to do on why one of the rebels' most respected leaders was killed.

Human rights activist Bob Namah, who played a leading role in the release of the hostages, has strongly condemned the killing.

"This is murder. He (Mr. Tago) was unarmed and he was not even a prisoner of war," Mr. Namah said.

He said he would brief his organization about the circumstantial death of Mr. Tago.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bomai said he was disappointed that the PNG security forces had decided to shoot dead a Melanesian brother.

"In the 36 years history of West Irian's struggle for independence from Indonesia, no OPM fighter has been killed by the PNG security forces," a saddened Bomai said.

"This is the first incident and I am deeply hurt by such irresponsible actions of PNG troops."

According to the rebels, Mr. Tago, Lego Bomai and another person were held by the security forces at the Skotchio Base Camp for questioning after releasing the hostages. While Lego and the other person were later released, Mr. Tago was held back allegedly "for more questioning" by the security forces.

Later in the evening, between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Monday, May 31, five shots were heard ringing out -- which they allege was the killing of Max Tago.

"I heard five shots very clearly that night, between 7 o'clock and 8 o'clock," said August Chris of Skotchio village.

After the security forces withdrew from Skotchio on Tuesday morning, the rebels came out of hiding and did a headcount, realizing that three of their people were missing. While two were later found, Max Tago was missing.

A search party was sent out which later confirmed the execution of Mr. Tago. With help from villagers at Skotchio, Mr. Tago's crudely dug grave was found some 100 meters (330 feet) from the base camp.

"He was not buried properly, but like an animal," Mr. Bomai said, adding that the late Max Tago was buried squatting with his arms clasped together in a prayer-like position.

The Independent visited the gravesite last Sunday and confirmed that it was very shallow, and that the victim's head was buried about 20 centimeters (eight inches) from the earth's surface.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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