CAPTORS OF TWO BELGIANS IN IRIAN JAYA SEEK CHURCH MEDIATION: POLICE

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 20, 2001 – Joyo Indonesian News/Antara/AFP/TAPOL)---Separatist rebels believed to be holding hostage two Belgian filmmakers in Indonesia's jungle-covered Irian Jaya have demanded that the church mediate negotiations for their release, a police officer said Wednesday.

Irian Jaya police Chief Inspector General Made Mangku Pastika said he had received information that the captors sought church mediation in the negotiations, the state Antara news agency reported.

Antara gave no further details of the request and church officials in Jayapura, the capital of the province, could not be immediately reached for comment.

But Irian Jaya police spokesman Commissioner Zulkifli told AFP that he was unaware of the demand to involve the church.

"So far, I have not heard that information. For the moment, we are still relying on the head of the Ilaga sub-district to seek their whereabouts and negotiate their release, if they really have been taken hostage," Zulkifli said by telephone from Jayapura.

Ilaga, an area in the central highlands 280 kilometers (174 miles) southeast of the coastal city of Nabire, is the site where the two Belgians -- Philippe Simon, 49, and Johan van Den Eynde, 47 -- disappeared earlier this month.

Police have said the Belgians were reported missing on June 7, after they left for the jungle east of Nabire.

Pastika, who could not be reached for comment, said in another report from Antara that the filmmakers had been taken hostage by a group led by local rebel leader Penny Murib.

Pastika also said the guerrillas had demanded, among other things, that they be allowed to fly the separatist "Morning Star" flag in return for the release of the hostages.

But Zulkifli said that police had not yet officially received any demand for the release of the Belgians.

"We have not yet received any formal demand from any group claiming to have taken the two hostage," Zulkifli said.

"Rumors have it that they are being held hostage. Maybe they just got lost," he added.

He said the pair had been told not to travel through Ilaga but that they ignored the advice.

On June 14 the Belgian foreign ministry said it had received information that the two had been kidnapped by separatists.

Spokesman Koen Vervaeke said in Brussels that the ministry had received "confirmation from the Indonesian authorities that the Free Papua Movement has kidnapped our two compatriots."

"According to local police forces (they) are in good health," he added.

"A ransom has not yet been asked for nor have any political demands been made," said Vervaeke.

Armed rebels have been waging a guerrilla war against Indonesian forces in predominantly Melanesian Irian Jaya, demanding independence.

Earlier this year, two South Koreans working at a timber company were taken hostage by Irian separatists before being released some days later.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email: plovers@gn.apc.org  Internet: www.gn.apc.org/tapol 

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