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Indonesians Throng Funeral of Activist Amid Tight Security

November 18, 2001|From Associated Press

SENTANI, Indonesia — Mourners wept and flung themselves across the casket of an independence movement leader who was buried in Indonesia's restive Irian Jaya province Saturday, a week after his suspicious death. More than 10,000 people came to Theys Eluay's funeral.

Hundreds of police and soldiers stood guard at the peaceful ceremony in Eluay's hometown of Sentani, while others manned roadblocks, confiscating knives and slingshots from the crowd.

The body of Eluay, 64, was found inside his crushed car in a ravine hours after he dined with military officers, and police said it appeared that he was strangled.

Relatives and independence activists have accused the military of responsibility for his death, a charge senior officers have denied.

Thousands of people have been killed in Irian Jaya since Indonesia occupied the former Dutch colony in 1963. Indonesia formally annexed the province in 1969 after a U.N.-sanctioned vote for integration by tribal leaders. Critics have dismissed the process as a sham.

Irian Jaya covers half of New Guinea island, in eastern Indonesia, and is home to huge mineral and petroleum resources. It is one of several provinces where political movements and armed rebels are fighting for independence.

People came from all corners of Irian Jaya to attend Saturday's ceremony. Many walked for days, while others packed onto the backs of trucks, and whole families of four or five squeezed onto motorbikes.

They climbed trees and sat on rooftops to watch the funeral in the tropical heat. Many men went bare-chested and wore traditional grass skirts, while women had feathers in their hair and strings of shells around their necks. Some mourners carried bows and arrows.

Eluay's coffin was draped with the independence movement's flag.

A top member of the movement, Willy Mandoen, blamed rogue elements in the army for Eluay's death. He said they wanted to cause unrest to retain lucrative security deals with businesses operating in the troubled region.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who ordered a security crackdown against separatist leaders, has not commented on Eluay's death.

The man who has replaced Eluay as the leader of the independence movement, Tom Beanal, said younger independence activists who favor a violent struggle are being restrained by community elders opposed to further bloodshed.

"We have no result from 37 years of violence. Indonesia has killed so many people since invading. We can never win through war," he said. "The struggle will continue but through peaceful means."

Beanal called on foreign governments and the United Nations to pressure Indonesia to rein in its security forces and end years of alleged human rights abuses in the region.

Despite his assurances of a peaceful struggle, armed separatists attacked a police station in Barapasi town on the province's northern coast Friday, and one person was killed, authorities said.

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