JAKARTA, Indonesia (January 19, 2001 – Joyo Indonesian News/AFP/ TAPOL)---Separatist rebels in remote Irian Jaya have seized seven negotiators trying to win the release of 11 abducted plywood workers and now hold 18 people hostage, police said Friday.

The seven, including two Korean nationals, were captured on Thursday when they traveled to a remote jungle area to negotiate with the rebels, a policeman at the provincial police headquarters in the Irian Jaya capital of Jayapura said.

The rebels seized the 11 plywood workers, including a South Korean, on Tuesday.

"According to the police report the hostages are (now) three Koreans, two native people and the rest are migrants" from other Indonesian provinces, the officer, who identified himself only as Agus, told AFP.

He said the two captured South Korean negotiators worked for plywood firm PT Tunas Korindo, which employed the first batch of hostages.

Police and military chiefs from the district of Merauke on Friday traveled to the jungle area near the border with Papua New Guinea to try to restart negotiations for the release of all 18 hostages.

"The police and military chiefs are in Asiki to seek the release of the hostages," First Brigadier Robert Wogono of the Merauke district police told AFP by telephone.

The first 11 captives, 10 Korindo workers and their South Korean manager, Kwon Oh-duk, 49, were abducted on Tuesday at the company’s mill in Asiki, a jungle area close to the border with neighboring Papua New Guinea.

A Korindo worker in Asiki told AFP by phone that the company had not been contacted by the hostage takers, a local separatist group led by Willem Onde.

She also said she had no information on the fate of the hostages, nor had she heard about the kidnapping of the negotiators.

The Tempo weekly said the Willem Onde group was estimated to have a force of 500 men operating near the border with Papua New Guinea and the southern boundary of the Jayawijaya mountain range.

Unconfirmed reports have said the kidnappers were asking for a ransom of one million dollars, the pullout of an Indonesian police unit from the area and a halt to logging.

But police have not confirmed those reports.

On Thursday Irian Jaya military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel R. Siregar told AFP from the provincial capital Jayapura that police in Merauke were in charge of facilitating the negotiations.

"The thing is, this case is purely a conflict between PT Korindo and locals, not with the government," Siregar said.

"We are still trying to find out the root cause of the problem but what is clear is that there is a conflict there between the company and the local population."

The Media Indonesia daily, quoting a correspondent for the newspaper’s affiliate, Metro TV, said 16 policemen from the elite mobile brigade unit and a company of army soldiers had been flown to the hostage area by plane.

The Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist movement has been fighting to turn Irian Jaya into a free state since Indonesian troops began infiltrating in 1962.

OPM groups have in the past used abduction to focus international attention on their cause.

In the most notorious case, an OPM group took a group of six foreign and five Indonesian scientists hostage in the central hinterland area of Mapnduma for four months in 1996. Two Indonesian scientists were killed when troops released the captives.

Calls for independence have been mounting in the predominantly ethnic Melanesian province, especially since East Timor broke away from Indonesia in October 1999 after a United Nations referendum on self-determination.

In 1969 a UN referendum ratified Indonesian sovereignty over Irian Jaya. Independence leaders claim the vote was flawed.

Jakarta has ruled out allowing Irian Jaya to secede but has promised broad autonomy for sometime this year.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email: Internet: 

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