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JAKARTA, Indonesia (January 25, 2001 - The Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Police will coordinate efforts with the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) to rescue the 16 hostages currently being held by separatist rebels at a remote jungle location in Irian Jaya, National Police Chief Gen. Surojo Bimantoro said on Wednesday.

"Community leaders can continue to negotiate, but should all negotiation efforts fail, Kopassus and our own bomb squad will help police officers secure the safety of the hostages," he told reporters.

"The lives of hostages are of primary importance to us," he said. "Police could have sent its forces to attack the abductors, but that would be risking the hostages’ lives."

The 16 hostages, including three South Koreans, were allegedly abducted by separatists led by Willem Onde of the Papua Liberation National Army (TPN Papua), a faction of the Merauke-based separatist movement, the Free Papua Organization (OPM).

Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Rear Marshall Graito Usodo, however, said that TNI headquarters has not yet decided whether to launch a military operation.

"To date, we are still employing persuasive methods (to resolve the situation)," Graito told a media conference at TNI headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta.

A member of the negotiation team said from Irian Jaya on Wednesday that the 16 hostages are "in good condition."

"The hostages were given meat and fish to eat."

"They are located in the Kilometer 56 area of Asiki regency, or about three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from Willem Onde’s base in the eastern part of the jungle district," negotiator Marius M., who functioned as a courier, said from Asiki early on Wednesday.

Asiki district is about 12 hours drive from Merauke town, which is located about 900 kilometers (540 miles) south of Irian Jaya’s capital of Jayapura.

"The previous location (of the hostages) was in Kilometer 59, but when the rebels saw Police Mobile Brigade troops the abductors moved them to the swamp near Wara River," Marius said.

Marius is said to have departed for the Asiki jungle at noon on Wednesday to continue negotiations at the rebel base.

He, along with one other negotiator, was also taking food and communication equipment, as requested by Onde.

A military source said on Wednesday that there were two huts in the area, each of which were being guarded by five armed members of TPN Papua.

"The three South Koreans stay in one hut, while the other 13 hostages occupy the other," the source, who requested anonymity, said.

Willem Onde was not available for the negotiations held on Wednesday, after he was reportedly summoned by the highest separatist leader of TPN, Indra Bernard Mawen, to a location on the border of Papua New Guinea.

The hostages are employed by PT Korindo, a South Korean timber company operating in the region.

The abductors demand US$ 1 million in compensation for environmental damage, the withdrawal of Brimob forces from the district of Asiki, and a total halt to logging.

In the worst recorded incident involving the TPN, a group of rebels abducted 26 people in January 1996, including seven Europeans, in the province’s hinterland of Mapenduma. After holding them in jungle camps for 4 months, the abductors released 15 hostages, while nine others were rescued by troops.

Two Indonesian hostages were slaughtered by the rebels during the rescue operation.

Merauke Police Adj. Sr. Comr. Mulyono, along with Assistant for Intelligence of the Trikora Military Command Col. Armin Tone, Merauke district deputy Benyamin Simatupang, Kopassus’s Tribuana unit chief Lt. Col. Nus RHN and stand-by troops are closely monitoring the situation in Asiki district.

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