LETTER MAY LINK INDONESIA ARMY TO PAPUA BATTLE

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By Ian Timberlake and Amy Chew

JAKARTA, Indonesia (April 27, 2002 - The Times [UK] Online/Kabar-Irian)---A human rights group says that for the first time it has obtained documentary evidence linking the Indonesian military with East Timor-style militias in the eastern province of Papua, which is fighting for independence from Jakarta.

The Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELS-HAM) said that it was concerned that the document, dated April 8, 2002, was part of a wider strategy to increase anti-independence activity and provoke violence in a province still traumatized by the murder of Theys Eluay, the pro-independence leader, last November.

Three members of the Indonesian Army's Kopassus special forces have been detained but not formally charged in the case.

Government-sponsored militias were used by Indonesia to try to destroy the independence movement in East Timor at the time of the United Nations-sponsored referendum in 1999.

"I'm very, very worried," said John Rumbiak, supervisor of ELS-HAM, a respected Papuan human rights agency.

The three-page document, seen by The Times, contains the names of 80 farmers who are listed as "Satgas Merah Putih candidates" from a village near Wamena in the highlands of Indonesia's easternmost province. The document is signed by the commander of the Wamena military district. Satgas Merah Putih, or the Red and White Task Force, takes its name from the colors of Indonesia's flag.

Papua has a large British-American investment. Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold Inc has invested £3billion (US$ 4,378,200,000) in the world's second largest copper and gold mine. However, it has been widely criticized for not taking the concerns of local tribesmen into account.

After examining the militia document, the Indonesian military said that it was simply a demographic tool for the local commander. "He must have demographic data, and one of the forces there is Satgas Merah Putih," Lieutenant Colonel Achmad Yani said.

A day earlier, before seeing the document, he had denied that the task force existed. Echoing language used by the Indonesian military when it talked about militias in East Timor before its referendum in 1999, Lieutenant Colonel Yani said that the task force had emerged from among the local population.

East Timor is preparing for full independence next month. Before the territory's vote to separate from Indonesia, militia created and backed by the Indonesian military had launched a campaign in which more than 1,000 East Timorese were killed.

Human rights groups first gave warning two years ago that the task force was operating in the Muslim-dominated Fakfak region of Papua, a majority Christian province where support for independence is widespread. Mr. Rumbiak said that the group had now spread to Wamena and Jayapura and also used the name Barisan Merah Putih.

Mr. Rumbiak said that he saw a group of them in Wamena last August, but this is their first piece of documentary evidence.

ELS-HAM said that Satgas Merah Putih has conducted military-style drills in the Wamena area, but there was no information on whether the militia were armed.

Mr. Rumbiak alleged that the Barisan Merah Putih in Fakfak was also "joining together with" militant Muslim militiamen who already have a presence in that part of Papua. He suspected that the document was a follow-up to a visit to Jakarta in March by 250 Papuan community leaders and tribal chiefs.

"They arrived on an Indonesian Air Force transport aircraft for what organizers called 'tourism'," he said.

Mr. Rumbiak said he feared that the Papuan visit to Jakarta, the emergence of the Barisan and the presence of Muslim militiamen were part of a strategy that could provoke independence supporters and lead to widespread conflict in Papua.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

Also see: http://www.koteka.net 

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