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By Don Greenlees

JAYAPURA, Papua, Indonesia (January 28, 2002 - The Australian)---The narrow stretch of bitumen was cloaked in darkness, closed in tightly on both sides by dense rainforest.

A few pinpoints of light penetrating the foliage marked the only houses off in the distance. On this deserted stretch of road, close to midnight on Saturday, November 10 last year, Ismail Nalli was out hunting for wild pig with an ageing Mauser rifle borrowed from friendly police.

The night was still and so far 22-year-old Nalli’s efforts at finding game had been disappointing. But Nalli’s hunting trip was about to become unforgettable. Moving fast out of the darkness came the headlights of two cars, breaking the peace. They pulled to a halt alongside Nalli and out jumped four men, pointing pistols.

Nalli was ordered into one of the cars. The men who had taken him custody were members of the Indonesian Army’s feared Kopassus special forces.

Two hours earlier they had kidnapped and slain Papua’s foremost independence leader, Theys Hiyo Eluay. What Nalli had unwittingly been caught in was the evening’s final gruesome act: the disposal of Eluay’s car with his body inside.

Nalli was taken back to a Kopassus office in the nearby village of Skow Sae, southeast of the capital Jayapura. He was questioned about his activities and, satisfied he knew nothing, Kopassus soldiers later freed him.

Nalli, however, was to become another useful witness in a quickly mounting case against Eluay’s assassins. By Sunday morning, Eluay’s car had been found resting against a tree stump on the side of a steep embankment. The discovery was made no more three kilometers (1.8 miles) from where Nalli had been detained. When Nalli learned the news, he went to human rights groups and police with the story of his own encounter with Kopassus.

A few weeks later, Kopassus soldiers hauled Nalli in again, this time to their headquarters in the south Jayapura neighborhood of Hamadi. They wanted to know what he had told investigators.

His distressed family sought police intervention over this illegal detention, prompting a phone call from deputy police chief Brigadier Raziman Tarigan to the provincial military commander, Major General Mahidin Simbolon.

According to human rights activists present at the time of Tarigan’s call, Simbolon was furious. He said, "What is this? Who is stabbing me from behind again?" recalled John Rumbiak, one of Papua’s leading advocates of human rights.

Nalli was freed on the military chief’s instructions. He is now in police protection. But he was not the only person to be terrorized in such fashion. Independence figures, witnesses and even the wife of a senior police investigator reported threatening phone calls or being followed. Police have three witnesses in protective custody and many others are being protected by human rights groups and churches.

The murder of Eluay has engendered new fear in a community that had slowly been regaining confidence in itself. If Eluay, the chairman of both the peak independence body, the Papuan Presidium, and the tribal council, could be so easily erased, Papuans ask, "Who is safe?"

The independence movement faces a complex matter of succession and internal solidarity. But Eluay at least has given the cause a martyr; he is an unexpected rallying point for a movement that does not lack conviction but sometimes seems lost on where to take the struggle next.

For the Indonesian government, the challenges are also great. It must put Eluay’s killers on trial to have any hope of building trust with Papuans and ending the impunity still enjoyed by men in uniform. Despite the promises of law reform, institutional and psychological barriers continue to protect soldiers from accountability for their crimes.

Everyone knows that the assassination of Eluay was the work of the men at Kopassus barracks in Hamadi, under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel Hartomo.

Incredibly, for the leader of Papuan independence, Eluay dined with Kopassus at their barracks on the night he died. He had been invited to attend the Indonesian Heroes Day dinner by Hartomo. On the morning of the dinner, Hartomo drove 25 kilometers (15 miles) to Eluay’s home in Sentani to present him the gift of a white shirt and press on him the invitation. According to Eluay’s wife, Yaneka Ohee Eluay, that was not so unusual. "They knew each other for a year and were very friendly, very close," she says.

Eluay arrived at the dinner at 6:30 p.m. Three hours later he excused himself and left with his driver, Aristoteles Masoka, to return home. When two other passengers tried to get a lift with Eluay, Hartomo intervened to suggest they find other transport.

No more than 15 minutes into the homeward journey, Eluay’s car was hit by another vehicle and ran off into the verge of the road. A second car was close in behind. Men leapt out, pushing Masoka into the front passenger seat. As the cars took off again, Masoka managed to jump to safety.

Sometime in the course of the next hour, 64-year-old Eluay was asphyxiated, possibly with a plastic bag. Passers-by had seen the moment of Eluay’s abduction. And Masoka had been picked up in a distraught condition by a minibus. He had pleaded to be taken to the friends he believed he had at the Kopassus barracks to report the kidnapping. He has not been seen since he walked through Kopassus’s front door.

In the collision that forced Eluay’s car off the road, particles of paint were dislodged. Police later found the paint matched a dented Kopassus car. The provincial military command gave police approval to interview more than 20 Kopassus soldiers and take mug shots and fingerprints.

Fingerprints lifted from Eluay’s car were sent back to a police laboratory in Jakarta. Sources close to the investigation say there is a match and witnesses have identified individuals from the mug shots.

Asked whether Kopassus was responsible for the murder, Tarigan said, "That is the indication." He said Eluay’s car would have had to pass three operating military checkpoints that night to get to where it was found. "If I went by, for sure they would stop me. If you go there, they would stop you. But these cars went straight through," he said.

Informed sources said the head of the army intelligence center sent to investigate came back with a preliminary conclusion that Kopassus was involved. Army chief General Endriartono Sutarto has set up an investigation team and insisted on convictions if Kopassus was involved.

Yet the real mystery is not who committed the murder but who ordered it and why? The answers raise other questions about Eluay himself and the strange, murky connections between him and the men who took his life. Eluay was an ambiguous choice to lead Papuan independence. For most of his political life he was a staunch Indonesian nationalist.

Yaneka, Eluay’s ninth wife (although Christian he never divorced his earlier wives), says her husband was open to anyone. "He was flexible," she says. That flexibility involved developing a close relationship with a succession of local Kopassus commanders.

In one conversation with Tarigan, Hartomo said of the much older Eluay, "I was like a father (bapak angkat) to Theys. Why would we be so stupid to do that (kill him)?" Indonesians would interpret the father analogy as being both condescending and indicative of Eluay receiving financial support from Hartomo.

The connection to Kopassus caused a great deal of unease when, after president Suharto’s downfall in 1998, Eluay switched his sympathies in favor of independence and positioned himself to lead the movement.

Papuan Presidium Secretary General Thaha al Hamid says, "People asked, how can we trust him?"

Even an old friend such as Leo Menanti, who had known Eluay since the early 1960s, attributes his conversion to being "disappointed and hurt" when he was not given a fourth term in the provincial legislature.

Although Eluay grew in stature as independence leader, healing many of the divides in the fractured independence movement, suspicions persisted, fuelled by decisions such as the appointment of Yorris Raweyai to chair the Jakarta branch of the Tribal Consultative Assembly.

Raweyai is known to be close both to the Suharto family and Kopassus.

There were also reliable allegations circulating that Eluay was receiving kickbacks from logging companies connected to the military, including Kopassus, and members of the Jakarta business elite. Indeed the Kopassus barracks in Jayapura is located within the grounds of the logging company Hanurata, owned by Suharto children.

Rumbiak of human rights group Elsham says Eluay compromised his principles by being too close to Kopassus and was "economically dependent," receiving money from Raweyai and logging companies.

"He endangered the whole struggle by those sorts of characteristics, so I am sorry about his death but I am concerned about the long-term struggle of Papuan independence," he says.

These concerns have clouded the issue about possible motives for Eluay’s murder: was it political or criminal? The popular theory among independence activists is that elements in Jakarta, mainly within the military, are trying to provoke chaos in Papua.

On January 1, the central government introduced special autonomy laws giving the province 80 per cent of revenue from natural resources and greater administrative freedom. In a significant symbolic gesture, the name of the province was changed from Irian Jaya to Papua and the independence Morning Star flag allowed to fly beneath the national flag.

One of the consequences of these kinds of reforms is to steadily weaken the military’s grip on security and, just as importantly, over its business interests. Tribal leaders have steadily begun to legally seize control of traditional land from the logging companies.

Among those to have lost forest concessions is Hanurata. Independence leaders perceive a grand conspiracy behind Eluay’s death, a plan to plunge Papua into violence and undermine both autonomy and the rule of President Megawati Sukarnoputri. No one, however, can rule out that Eluay fell foul of something more crude, arising from his personal dealings with the military and business. There are some indications that the orders came from outside the normal Kopassus chain of command.

Military sources said shortly after the murder the commandant general of Kopassus, Major General Amirulah Isnaeni, sent the commander of the special warfare group, Colonel Hotma Panjaitan, to find out what happened.

He would have undoubtedly noticed that the assassination was carried out in a very sloppy, unprofessional way. Human rights group Elsham thinks enough of the possibility of motives other than the political conspiracy to have sent staff to Jakarta to make inquiries.

Says Rumbiak, "It may have been a cheap death." Finding the answers and putting the culprits behind bars will be vital to Megawati’s chances of ensuring the offer of special autonomy is accepted by Papuans as a compromise to independence. For now, the mood in Papua remains firmly pro-independence, a sentiment deepened by Eluay’s murder.

Moreover, the episode has been a reminder of the power of the military. Although the police have ample evidence to make a case, they have called for an independent national team to take the investigation further. They have no legal power they say, to investigate crimes committed by the armed forces. The common belief is that they too have been intimidated by Kopassus standover tactics.

A week ago, Megawati signed off on the appointment of the independent team of investigators. Papuan independence leaders say they are prepared to await the results before taking any further action. Papuans have so far been restrained, but their patience can’t be guaranteed if the investigation is a whitewash.

For additional reports from The Australian, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Australian.

Provided by: Australia West Papua Association, Sydney P.O. Box 65 Millers Point Australia 2000 Tele/fax 61.2. 99601698 Email: iris@matra.com.au  Web: http://www.zulenet.com/AWPA/wpglue.html 

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