DOUBTS CAST OVER SIGNATURE OF IRIAN JAYA REBEL LEADER IN BELGIAN HOSTAGE CASE

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (July 3, 2001 -- Joyo Indonesian News/AFP/ TAPOL)---Church leaders and authorities in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya cast doubt Tuesday over the signature of a rebel leader in a letter allegedly sent by the kidnappers of two Belgians.

"One of the letters was allegedly sent by Kelly Kwalik but the signature does not match his (Kawlik's). It can be said that someone is claiming to be him," Priest Theo van den Broek told AFP from Jayapura, the main city in Irian Jaya.

Van den Broek, a Roman Catholic priest who is one of the mediators for the release of the hostages, was referring to a letter for Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid sent via the church in Jayapura by separatist rebel leader Kelly Kwalik.

The letter allegedly signed by Kwalik, who is the commander of the Papuan Liberation Army, demanded that their struggle for a free Papua state be presented before an international forum.

In another letter received by the mediators, the hostages, Philippe Simon, 49, and Johan van den Eynde, 47, said they were in good health, had been allowed limited freedom of movement and that they had met with Kwalik.

The second letter also carried a signature supposed to be Kwalik's.

Separatist rebels reportedly seized the Belgians in the central highlands of Irian Jaya earlier this month. Police have said they ignored advice not to travel in the area.

Van den Broek said he and the other church mediator, the Reverend Benny Giay of the Protestant church, were currently waiting for further information on the case before deciding on their next move.

"We are currently trying to gather our own information through our liaison in the area and hopefully, by the end of the week, we would already have enough information to decide on what to do next," van den Broek said.

Kwalik led the 1996 abduction of several researchers, including foreigners, in the same area. Two people were killed during a military operation to release those hostages.

The Free Papua Movement (OPM) has been fighting for an independent state of West Papua in predominantly Melanesian Irian Jaya since the 1960s.

It consists of several small groups of armed men spread across the western half of New Guinea Island.

Earlier this year, two South Koreans working at a timber company were taken hostage by another group of 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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