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By Chris McCall in Jakarta

JAKARTA, Indonesia (July 30, 2002 – South China Morning Post/Joyo Indonesian News/Kabar-Irian)---West Papua's separatist Presidium fears it will be declared illegal and its members arrested under a new "peace" operation ordered by the region's police chief.

On July 17, police chief Inspector General Made Mangku Pastika issued a statement announcing operation "Adil Matoa."

The 60-day operation, beginning from an unspecified date yet to be announced, is purportedly aimed at creating a "peace zone" and keeping the restive province within Indonesia.

"The aim of this special operation is to form and maintain Papua as a zone of peace and an integral part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia," the statement read.

It has gone hand in hand with increased military activity in parts of the province. The statement came just as the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council was arranging to declare its own "peace zone" in the troubled region next month.

Presidium secretary Thaha Alhamid said the statement's specific referral to separatists and groups using "human rights" as a cover for such activities clearly meant members of the Presidium would be labeled as separatists.

He pointed out that he and three co-accused were acquitted in May of subversion charges after the judge concluded there was no proof that any crime had been committed. This statement was an attempt, he said, to link the "peace zone" irreconcilably with integration with Indonesia.

"The people have been manipulated by the authorities," he said.

Although the Presidium and its affiliated bodies are campaigning for independence and revision of the infamous 1969 Act of Free Choice that brought West Papua permanently into Indonesia, its leaders have always stressed non-violence and respect for Indonesian law, for now.

In fact, Mr. Alhamid questioned the legality of the police chief's statement. Under the new Special Autonomy law for West Papua, any such move required consultation with the governor and the regional legislature. There had certainly been no consultation with the legislature, Mr. Alhamid said.

"We have checked with the regional legislature. The regional legislature never did. So why is there suddenly an order for a special operation?"

Legislature speaker John Ibo has publicly said he opposed the plan and called for calm. The plan has triggered widespread protests, with the vast majority of the indigenous population wanting independence. However, West Papua also has a large minority of migrants from other parts of Indonesia, and events like this always stir up tension between the two groups.

The province's police spokesman could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Aloy Renwarin, vice director of the human rights group ELSHAM Papua, said the police chief had told them that no threat was intended to them. Many suspected the statement was an indirect threat to their work.

ELSHAM Papua is the only major indigenous human rights group operating in West Papua. This has made it possible for it to compile detailed reports on allegations of human rights abuses in the province, most notably on the death of Presidium chairman Theys Hiyo Eluay last November.

A military court is soon expected to begin the trial of members of the Kopassus Special Forces who are accused of abducting Eluay and killing him. Indonesia's official inquiry into the killing refused to categorize it as a human rights crime, meaning the military courts will retain jurisdiction.

Critics say the perpetrators will be trying the perpetrators.

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