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JAKARTA, Indonesia (March 4, 2002 – Reuters/Kabar-Irian)---Indonesian investigators have sealed off and searched the headquarters of the feared special forces in troubled Papua as part of a probe into the murder of the province's top independence leader.

The chief of the government-appointed team also told Reuters all 300 Kopassus special forces troops had been withdrawn from Papua, although an army spokesman said this was a routine rotation and unrelated to last November's killing of Theys Eluay.

"The headquarters have been emptied after being searched through," Koesparmono Irsan said on Monday after returning from a three-day visit to Papua in the country's far east.

"We are looking at every possibility that has been suggested, including suspected involvement of members of Kopassus. That is why our probe touched on them."

Irsan said the group of investigators had sealed off and searched the special force's headquarters in the local capital Jayapura -- 3,700 kilometers (2,220 miles) east of Jakarta -- last week.

"We can't disclose our findings or conclusions yet as we still do not know who did it and what the motive was," Irsan said, adding that the team hoped to complete their probe by April.

Eluay was found dead in his overturned car on November 11 after having dinner in Jayapura with the local Kopassus chief.

Police have not ruled out military involvement in the murder although the army as an institution has denied all accusations.

The killing bolstered already strong demands for independence among the two million Papuans, who say the government siphons off the province's wealth but gives little in return.

The resource-rich province is one of Indonesia's two separatist hotspots but nationalist President Megawati Sukarnoputri has firmly ruled out independence as Jakarta seeks to stabilize the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Leading human rights groups have said Eluay's death was a well-planned assassination and in the past have accused Kopassus of human rights violations in the country.

"Just Routine"

Kopassus said the troop change was unrelated to the inquiry.

"It is true that the troops were withdrawn last week but they are being replaced by new ones. This is just routine and has nothing to do with Theys' case," Farid Makruf told Reuters.

Many Papuans believe soldiers had some role in the killing and one member of the investigating team said there was some indication Kopassus troops may have been hired by Eluay's rivals in the pro-independence Papua Presidium Council he used to head.

"There are many factions in the council and all we can say is that not many people were happy with Theys," said the member of the team, who declined to be identified.

A leading council member angrily denied the suggestion.

"Papua police have reported their findings and their investigation said there's no indication Papuans were involved in the murder.

How could Papuans kill their own leader?" Herman Awom, a priest, told Reuters by telephone from Jayapura.

Separately, a court in Jayapura on Monday acquitted three senior council members who had been on trial for subversion over their campaign for independence, the Antara news agency reported.

Charges were laid after the council organized independence events in 2000. The reason for the acquittals was unclear. A similar case against Eluay was dropped after his death.

The normally tight-lipped head of Kopassus recently dismissed suggestions his men were involved in last year's killing and said despite months of inquiries there was no evidence.

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