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JAKARTA, Indonesia (September 3, 1999 – Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---In a bid to restore "the trust of all parties," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is sending a special envoy here to clarify its involvement in the tragic end of the 1996 Irian Jaya hostage crisis.

The special envoy will be tasked with explaining that the organization strictly acted as a neutral intermediary to assist and seek the release of the hostages.

"Despite the profound conviction of the ICRC that no delegate was involved in any military action, it is of utmost importance for the institution to act transparently, in all circumstances," said Toni Pfanner, head of the Southeast Asia regional delegation, in a statement here on Thursday.

The envoy is expected to arrive here this month and meet with several parties to clarify the ICRC's involvement, particularly the alleged involvement of one of its delegates.

Thirteen researchers, including seven foreigners, were kidnapped by Irianese rebels in January 1996. The ICRC then stepped in to help ensure the health and possibly mediate the release of the hostages.

However, after several months their efforts failed and the ICRC officially withdrew from the crisis. Indonesian troops then launched a military operation to rescue the hostages.

Eleven hostages were freed. However, two others died in the attack.

Recently there has been speculation on the true role of the ICRC, with some suggesting that there may have been a misuse of the Red Cross symbol and the involvement of ICRC delegate Sylviane Bonaday in the rescue operation, in which many local villagers were also reportedly killed.

In his statement, Pfanner maintained that any misuse of the Red Cross symbol was a violation of international humanitarian law, especially when it is associated with the killing of people.

He noted that it was crucial that in the envoy's meeting with the parties concerned, a respected person from the Irianese community be included.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News")


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