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JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (July 3, 2001 - Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Church officials named to mediate in the abduction of two Belgian filmmakers have delayed their planned preliminary meeting with the Irianese rebel group who claim to have taken the foreigners hostage.

Irian Jaya Police chief Brig. Gen. I Made Mangku Pastika said on Sunday that the postponement followed a statement by the commander of the National Liberation Army for Free Papua (TPNP), Kelly Kwalik, who denied his group was responsible for the kidnapping.

"The mediators have talked to me about their decision to cancel their trip but we still hope they can later play a role in aiding the release of the hostages," Made said, referring to priest Theo van den Broek and Rev. Benny Giay, who had been chosen to represent local church officials in the negotiation.

The meeting with the abductors was planned immediately after a letter carrying Kelly Kwalik's signature was sent to the church. In the letter, the rebels demanded President Abdurrahman Wahid expose TPNP issues in an international forum.

Local daily Timika Pos quoted an unnamed spokesman for Kelly as saying that he had sent his apology to the King of Belgium and other parties in connection with a letter earlier sent by those who claimed to be abductors of the two filmmakers.

Kelly, who earlier had been involved in the kidnapping of a group of researchers in the Mapenduma hinterland in 1996, admitted that he and his group did not know anything about the Belgians who have been abducted.

The two Belgians, identified as Johan Elia Theo van Dem Eynde, 47, and Philippe R.D. Simon, 49, were reported almost a month ago while conducting research in Illaga district, Puncak Jaya regency.

Initially a rebel group, led by Peni Murif, claimed to have abducted them. Peni, admitting to be one of Kelly's men, sent a message via radio asking the church officials to mediate for their release.

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