IRIAN JAYANS ASSEMBLE FOR PRAYERS AND LIKELY INDEPENDENCE DEMONSTRATIONS

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JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (November 11, 1999 – Jakarta Post)---Hundreds of Irianese people have poured into Jayapura from all parts of the province to attend a mass prayer scheduled for Friday in Sentani, some 45 kilometers (27 miles) south of here.

People from Jayawijaya regency were seen arriving in Jayapura on Wednesday, two days after ships carrying some 500 representatives from Puncak Jaya, Paniai, Nabire, and Yapen Waropen regencies docked at the town's port.

Hundreds of others from Biak, Manokwari and Sorong regencies flocked into the Irian Jaya capital last week.

Many Irianese are staying with family members in Jayapura.

Around 600 others are staying at the Irian Jaya Custom Institute, while others are at the house of the institution's chairman, Theys Hiyo Eluay, who is also providing the people with food.

They said the mass prayer would precede a huge rally to demand an independent state on Monday.

Demands for independence have been mounting since the demise of the Suharto's New Order regime last year. Indigenous people have frequently raised the Morning Star, the separatist rebel movement's flag, prompting clashes with security authorities.

Chief of the Trikora Military Command overseeing Irian Jaya, Maj. Gen. Amir Sembiring, said he personally had no objection to the mass prayer meeting.

"I don't mind if the people gather in Sentani just to say prayers. But if it generates unrest, we will take stern measures against them for the sake of peace and order," said Sembiring, who will be replaced by Brig. Gen. Albert Inkiwang early next month.

Sembiring said he was ready to order a military operation to quell any separatist rebel activity in Irian Jaya.

He said the rebel group, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), had demonstrated its intent to wage an armed resistance movement, when earlier this month its members shot at an Army helicopter which was on a surveillance mission in the Bonggo area near Jayapura.

The helicopter was not hit, according to Sembiring.

"We have collected facts that the rebel group is now flexing its muscles. Before the group grows stronger, we have to take measures against them," Sembiring said on Tuesday.

The military have so far worked with local religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations activists and community figures to persuade suspected supporters of the separatist group to stop their resistance.

Sembiring said the Indonesian Military considered the separatist groups "missing brothers."

He said the Irian separatist groups were "not that large," but due to a growing speculation that they have received weapons from abroad, there was a possibility that they would dare to engage in battles with the security authorities.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") Website: http://www.irja.org/ 

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