Indonesia military suspected in Papuan leader's death
Members of Indonesia's military go on trial this summer in the death of a Papuan independence leader.
When a tall, stocky Army officer came to his home last October with a dinner invitation, Willy Mandowen was reluctant to accept.Skip to next paragraph
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As a campaigner for independence from Indonesian rule, Mr. Mandowen knew he had little in common with Maj. Donny Hutabarat, the special-forces officer that sat smiling on his sofa. Indonesia's special forces, known as Kopassus, are trained to quash dissent and rebellions in far-flung territories such as Papua, also called Irian Jaya.
"He was trying to be friendly, but he was hiding something," Mandowen recalls. "He said that he wanted a [political] dialogue, so we talked, but he didn't really say much."
Mandowen told his guest he would consider the invitation.
On Nov. 10, the night of the dinner, Mandowen stayed home. His friend and fellow Papuan independence leader, Theys Eluay, however, accepted an invitation to the same dinner, and was later seen leaving the Kopassus barracks about 9:30 p.m.
On his way home, Mr. Eluay's car was hijacked by a group of men. He was later found dead from asphyxiation near the Papua New Guinea border.
Now, six months after his death, a government investigation committee has confirmed what many in Papua say they knew from the start: Eluay was the victim of an Army assassination. So far, six suspects have been detained, including Major Hutabarat and his commander, Colonel Hartomo, who both attended the memorial dinner.
Army investigators have said the accused soldiers could be charged with murder and insubordination, and that they acted alone without orders from their superiors. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Syafrie Syamsuddin says the full picture will be revealed in the military court that will try the men. "The investigators are still looking for the real motivation [for the killing]," he says.
But the success in tracking down the alleged killers has won few plaudits in this rugged and under-populated territory, which was only incorporated into Indonesia in 1963 under a US-brokered deal with the Netherlands, the colonial ruler. Instead, Papuans are demanding to know the motive for the murder and, crucially, who gave the order.
For Indonesia, which has been trying to win over Papuans disgruntled with its rule, the Army's role in the killing undercuts its promise that the repression of the past is over. It also raises the stakes for the independence movement, which has so far campaigned peacefully for a referendum on self-rule, but has little to show for it.
"After 40 years of military occupation, we still have no human rights," says Thaha Al-Hamid, secretary-general of the pro-independence Papuan Presidium that Eluay chaired until his death. Mr. Al-Hamid says he also received an invitation in person from Major Hutabarat to the Nov. 10 dinner, but declined to attend.
The case is proving a stiff test for Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has pledged to bring the killers to justice but faces the difficult task of overturning decades of military immunity from prosecution. Few expect her to win any concessions from the Army, which has refused to take any responsibility for the East Timor violence in 1999.