PAPUAN SEPARATIST LEADER ESCAPES JAIL, INDONESIANS DEPLOY POLICE ON BORDER

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (Oct 31, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Hundreds of Indonesian police have been deployed to the border with Papua New Guinea to prevent West Papua's most wanted man, Benny Wenda, from fleeing to the neighboring country.

Pro-independence activist Wenda escaped from jail on Sunday, the Jakarta Post confirmed in reports from the Indonesian-ruled province's capital, Jayapura.

He escaped the Abepura prison along with another inmate Lazarus Walela, the Jakarta Post said.

Wenda was on trial at the district court. He is charged with masterminding an attack on the Abepura police station in which a policeman was killed and burning two shops in the small township on Dec. 7, 2000.

Brig. Gen. Raziman Tarigan, deputy chief of the Papua Provincial Police, told the Jakarta Post that the police would continue to hunt for Wenda so they could resume the trial.

He said he believed the two escapees were still hiding some place inside or outside of Abepura.

"That is why we've deployed our personnel to the border area to prevent them from escaping to PNG," he said.

Soedarsono, head of the Abepura prison, told the Jakarta Post the two men escaped through a prison bathroom. "They broke the bathroom's ceiling and its ventilation to get out of the prison," he said.

He explained that Wenda was put in the prison on the order of the Abepura District Court while he was being tried for his alleged role in the December 2000 attacks.

Soedarsono told the Jakarta Post: "The incident occurred when some 50 Papuan people, led by Benny, attacked the police station and torched two shops. A policeman was killed in the attack and a security guard was found dead near the shopping compound."

Benny Wenda is the younger brother of Mathias Wenda, a field commander of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) allegedly operating in the West Papua-Papua New Guinea border area.

The two brothers helped move some 500 Papuans to the central highlands of Jayawijaya because they felt unsafe in Jayapura city with its heavy military control.

Last December, the Papuan pro-independence group was believed to be behind the killing of six workers in a sawmill in the area.

Following the attacks, the local police and military conducted a bloody raid on houses that were suspected as the attackers' hiding places. Four people, all students, were killed during the raids, the Jakarta Post reported.

The killing sparked protests and criticism from numerous sides, including human rights organizations.

The Jakarta Post said there was an increasing demand for the police to investigate the killings, described as serious human rights abuses. No investigations ever commenced, the newspaper reported.

Benny Wenda's lawyer Yohannes Bonay said: "If my client Benny Wenda is found guilty in court, the killing of the four students must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to trial."

A.B. Aronggear, chief of the local justice and human rights office, said that he had set up a team to investigate the two detainees' escape.

There seemed to be some suspicion surrounding the circumstances, he told the Jakarta Post.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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