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Indonesia Police Name New Suspects in Murder of Rights Activist

Police in Indonesia have named two new suspects in the investigation into the murder

Munir Sa'id Thalib of Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Violence, in Jakarta (File photo - Sept. 29, 1998)
of a prominent human-rights activist last September. The activist, Munir Sa'id Thalib, died on a flight to Amsterdam after ingesting a large amount of arsenic.

Munir Sa'id Thalib died in agony hours before his Garuda Indonesia airlines plane touched down in Amsterdam. According to an autopsy carried out by Dutch police, he had ingested nearly 500 milligrams of arsenic, enough poison to kill four people.

The two new suspects are both airline cabin crew: one was working in the plane's pantry and the other was the stewardess who served Mr. Munir his meal.

Police have already named a Garuda pilot as a suspect - he apparently offered his business-class seat to Mr. Munir, and there have been inconsistencies in his explanation as to why he was on the flight.

But friends and colleagues of Mr. Munir, a 38-year-old lawyer and human-rights activist who had challenged some of Indonesia's most powerful vested interests, believe that other people could have been behind the murder.

Smita Notosusanto sat on a commission set up by the government to investigate Mr. Munir's death, but resigned because she believed the commission had not been given enough power to investigate properly. She believes that Mr. Munir had angered some powerful people working within the state system.

"I think the key is still with our national intelligence agency, the fact that they still refuse to meet with the team is an indication that the agency is trying to either protect someone or itself," said Smita Notosusanto.

The government has yet to comment on the investigation.

Mr. Munir was active in areas of particular sensitivity to the Indonesian authorities, including the restive provinces of Papua and Aceh, where the army is accused of widespread human-rights abuses. He was also involved in the investigation into the behavior of the security forces in East Timor before, and immediately after the bloody 1999 vote for independence, when more than 1,000 people were killed.