By Andrew Kilvert in Timika, Irian Jaya

TIMIKA, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (December 4, 1999 – Sydney Morning Herald/Kabar Irian)---Tensions remained high in this isolated mining town on the Irian Jaya south coast yesterday, a day after Indonesian troops opened fire on unarmed pro-independence protesters, injuring 55 people.

The protesters yesterday re-established their burned tent embassy in the Catholic church grounds where the shooting took place.

Protesters continued to flaunt the banned Morning Star independence flag on T-shirts and hats, under the gaze of hundreds of armed troops.

The poorly equipped hospitals in the tiny town, carved into swamps and lowland jungles, were treating indigenous Papuans, a number of whom suffered severe injuries in the violence.

Most of those in hospital suffered gunshot wounds in the initial military attack on the church compound as troops sought to remove a rebel flag early on Thursday.

Human rights monitors from the local human rights group ELSHAM were also attacked by troops and had a vehicle and other equipment destroyed.

The military ordered Australian and American workers at the vast Freeport copper mine in the mountains nearby to stay out of town.

One woman who witnessed the shooting said: ''The people ran and the soldiers just started shooting wildly. There was no reason. The people weren't carrying sticks or bows and arrows but the soldiers just shot them.''

Witnesses said there was no provocation by the protesters, apart from their refusal to remove the Morning Star flag.

Timika's deputy chief of police, Colonel Edi Pramudio, insisted the people sustained the injuries as they tripped over firewood when they were fleeing the soldiers who fired into the air. Other Indonesian officials denied that shots were fired.

However, local people produced bullets extracted from the wounds of the injured as evidence the shooting occurred.

''They are liars,'' said one woman who witnessed the shooting. ''They tell the outside world lies.''

On the other side of Irian Jaya, tensions were mounting in the town of Nabire in the northwest. Locals seeking independence from Indonesia, some carrying bows and arrows, continued to fly the Morning Star flag in defiance of the authorities.

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

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