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JAKARTA, Indonesia (August 23, 2000 - Indonesian Observer)---Police opened fire during a clash with separatists in West Papua (Irian Jaya) yesterday, killing three people and wounding several.

Reports said the clash broke out after some 500 supporters of the Free Papua Organization (OPM) hoisted the separatist Morning Star flag outside a church in the coastal oil town of Sorong.

Two of the dead were identified as Mesak Imbir and Isai Imbir. The third person had not yet been identified.

Police said they arrested 26 OPM supporters and have restored order to the area.

The clash started at 8:30 a.m. local time at the Immanuel Church in Kampung Baru sub district.

Deputy Irian Jaya Police Chief Senior Superintendent Thamrin Simandjuntak said five police were badly injured after being stabbed with machetes, arrows and spears by members of the angry crowd.

He said the incident started after Reverend Frans Mambrasar noticed the crowd raising the flag at about 5:00 a.m. The reverend telephoned the Sorong Police station and a group of security officers later arrived at the church.

Simandjuntak said the police were met by a spray of arrows and spears, so they retaliated by opening fire.

Reuters quoted a police official as insisting that only rubber bullets were used.

Chief of the Irian Jaya Police Command Control Center (Kapuskodal) Senior Superintendent Kusnadi said the dead and injured had been sent to Sorong Military Hospital.

He said the clash had not disrupted economic activities in the region. "The economy cycle is back to normal," he was quoted as saying.

Kusnadi said that although 26 civilians were arrested, another 200 or so escaped by sailing small vessels to outlying islands.

According to Kusnadi, the clash was incited by pro-independence supporters.

A low-level separatist insurgency has simmered in resource-rich West Papua for decades.

Once banned, President Abdurrahman Wahid has allowed the separatist flag to be flown as long as it is next to and lower than the Indonesian flag.

But he has ruled out giving the huge province independence, despite growing calls since last year’s break from Jakarta by East Timor.

Irian Jaya was incorporated into Indonesia 1963, after heavy diplomatic pressure on the Netherlands, the country’s former colonial ruler. In 1969, a UN-run plebiscite was held among local leaders, which resulted in a vote to join Indonesia. The vote has been widely criticized as unfair.

The violence in Sorong came a day after separatist leaders threatened to wage all-out war against Jakarta if their calls for independence remained unheeded.

Theys Eluay, chairman of the pro-independence Papua People’s Presidium, condemned the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) for recommending the government not tolerate separatism in Irian Jaya.

He said the incorporation of West Papua into Indonesia was achieved through military force and a fraudulent vote.

Earlier this month, Wahid told the MPR that Irian Jaya would be accorded broad autonomy before the end of the year.

In May and June, Wahid allowed a pro-independence congress of rebels and tribal leaders to be held in the provincial capital, Jayapura.

The congress issued a resolution saying the western half of New Guinea Island, which borders independent Papua New Guinea, had been independent since the declaration of a West Papua state in 1961.

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

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