- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

SURABAYA, Indonesia, Jan. 3 (UPI) — Seven Indonesian special forces soldiers went on trial before a military court on Friday on charges of killing of an independence leader in Papua, Theys Eluay, in 2001.

If found guilty, the seven could face up to 15 years in jail.

The defendants include Lt. Col. Hartomo, the highest ranking solider on trial in the case. The other defendants were Chief Pvt. Ahmad Zulfahmi, Capt. Rionardo, Chief Sgt. Asrizal, 1st Lt. Agus Supriyanto, Maj. Doni Hutabarat and 1st Sgt. Laorensius.

Eluay, head of the pro-independence Papua Presidium Council, was found dead in his car near Jayapura, the provincial capital, on Nov. 10, 2001. He had been returning from a dinner hosted by the local unit of the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus.

Military prosecutor Col. Hariyanto said his indictment that one of the men in Eluay's car, soldier Ahmad Zulfahmi, clamped his hand over Eluay's mouth three times until he stopped breathing after the victim said Jakarta's promises to offer more autonomy to Papua were a deception.

Among thosse attending the opening session of the trial was Maj. Gen. Supriyanto, Kopassus' chief commander, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Military police had said earlier that about 80 witnesses are expected to testify at the tribunal in Surabaya, the East Java capital that is about 300 miles east of Jakarta.

Initially, the military denied any involvement Eluay's death. But last year, the military police confirmed the involvement of Kopassus. The initial investigation stalled when the Kopassus command in Jayapura refused to cooperate, citing the immunity of the defense forces.

A follow-up government-backed national investigation team then publicly announced their findings in April 2002, citing several Kopassus members as suspects.

Eluay's driver, Aristoteles, was believed to have witnessed the slaying. He remains missing but is presumed dead, and there are suspicions that he was killed and buried within the complex of the military unit in Jayapura. However, a military investigation team that excavated parts of the grounds found nothing.

The military has a long history of human rights abuses in Papua, and Eluay's murder further eroded Papuans' trust in the army and the central government.

Kopassus, also known as the "red berets," has been blamed for many of the worst human rights abuses by the military in Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor, now an independent state), as well as in Aceh and Papua.

Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, about 2,300 miles northeast of Jakarta, is a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea that became an Indonesian territory in 1964.

(Reported by Sukino Harisumarto in Jakarta.)

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