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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 10:35 GMT
Soldiers tried for Papua leader's death
A woman weeps over the coffin, which is draped with the banned Morning Star separatist flag
Theys Eluay wanted independence for the province
Seven Indonesian special forces soldiers have gone on trial at a military court in connection with the killing of a prominent Papuan independence leader more than a year ago.

The defendants, who are members of the army's special forces unit, known as Kopassus, face up to 15 years in jail.

Theys Eluay
Theys Eluay was on trial for treason
The killing of 64-year-old Theys Eluay, who was found dead in his car in November 2001, provoked widespread anger in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya.

The Indonesian military has denied any involvement in his death.

Military prosecutor Hariyanto told the court that the highest-ranking soldier on trial, Lieutenant-Colonel Hartomo, ordered two of the accused to accompany Eluay in his car as he returned from a dinner with the local Kopassus chief.

After Eluay angrily argued that Jakarta's promises of autonomy to Papua were a deception, Hariyanto said one of the soldiers, Ahmad Zulfahmi, suffocated Eluay with his hands.

"When Theys didn't move, Ahmad Zulfahmi let go and at the same time Theys yelled for help... During the third attempt, Theys could breathe no more," Hariyanto told the tribunal.

Several of the accused soldiers, who were following in a car behind, witnessed the killing, Hariyanto said.

Another potential witness, Eluay's driver, remains missing, presumed dead.

He had told Eluay's family in a brief mobile telephone call that they had been abducted by a group of non-Irianese.

Lieutenant Hartomo has told police that Eluay died of a heart attack while being questioned, but a police autopsy report said the independence leader was strangled.

Autonomy rejected

Mr Eluay and four members of the Papua Presidium, the pro-independence umbrella group which he headed, had been on trial at the time, charged with treason for trying to set up an independent state of West Papua.

Mr Eluay had previously rejected moves by President Megawati Sukarnoputri to grant the province a degree of autonomy.

The government has ruled out full independence for the province, which lies on the western half of New Guinea island, but it hopes more autonomy will end nearly 40 years of separatist fighting there.

Last month, the similarly restive province of Aceh, where separatists had also demanded independence, appeared to be moving towards peace as the two sides signed a cease-fire which could lead to autonomy.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
22 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
11 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
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