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Indonesia: Eluay Murder Investigation Proves Controversial - 2002-06-25

Indonesian investigators have concluded that the murder of a prominent independence leader in Papua province - allegedly by soldiers - was not motivated by politics. But, his fellow independence supporters disagree.

Investigators say nine members of Indonesia's special forces unit suspected of killing Theys Eluay will be tried in a military tribunal. They will be charged with ordinary murder, and not a human rights violation. Indonesia's National Police Chief Major General Sulaiman confirms that a report by military investigators concludes Mr. Eluay's killing was not politically motivated. Therefore, he says, it is not subject to trial in a civilian court as a human rights violation. Mr. Eluay was the flamboyant leader of the Papua Presidium Council, an independence group. He was killed last October when his car was ambushed as he drove home from a dinner at a special forces base. Willy Mandowen, also of the Papua Presidium Council, rejects the report's findings. He says the investigation into the murder was flawed from the beginning. "The killing has been a cover-up operation and the investigation has been a cover-up investigation, and now they're going to do a cover-up tribunal by the military itself," he said.

Mr. Mandowen says Mr. Eluay's killing was a political assassination. Theys Eluay openly reject the idea of integration with Indonesia through a peaceful and democratic way, and there is no way to attract him to agree with Indonesian policy. Therefore, the only way to bring down the pro-independence peaceful movement in Papua is to kill the leader. Three of the nine suspects in the murder are mid-ranking military officers. The trial of all nine suspects is expected to open next month. Each could face up to 15 years in prison. The military has said that if soldiers were involved in Mr. Eluay's death, they acted outside of the military chain of command. Formerly known as Irian Jaya, the resource-rich Papua province makes up the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea. It has been part of Indonesia since 1969, when tribal leaders voted in favor of integration in a United Nations-approved ballot. But independence supporters say that vote was rigged - and they want the United Nations to reopen the matter.