Indonesian rebel chief abducted and killed

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The Independent Online

The leader of the main independence movement in Indonesia's Irian Jaya province has been kidnapped and killed, according to police. Theys Eluay's widow blamed the security forces. Riots erupted as news of his death spread.

Villagers found Mr Eluay dead in his wrecked car in a ravine about 18 miles east of the provincial capital, Jayapura. Police said his assailants had apparently tried to make his death look accidental by pushing the car off a remote stretch of road.Lieutenant-Cololonel Daud Sihombing, Jayapura's police chief, said: "The autopsy has not been completed yet, but we have suspicions that he was strangled with rope." The police had no suspects and the motive was unclear.

Mr Eluay died hours after dining with some local Indonesian military officers. He had been free on bail while facing trial on subversion charges that carried a prison term of up to 20 years.

Independence supporters set fire to a hotel, a market and a bank near Jayapura's airport. Others blocked roads with burning tyres and threw rocks at police, who responded with warning shots. There were no reports of injuries and police dispersed the crowds at dusk.

Mr Eluay's widow, Yaneke, said she believed Indonesia's security forces were behind her husband's death. Senior officers in Indonesia's military, which has long been accused of human rights abuses, refused to comment.

Relatives of Mr Eluay said he was being driven back from Jayapura to his house in nearby Sentani after the dinner. The driver, Aristoteles Masoka, called Mr Eluay's wife on a mobile telephone to say they had been ambushed and abducted.

Mr Masoka's father, Yonas Masoka, said: "My son called with his mobile phone but in mid-conversation the connection was broken." The driver's body was not in the wrecked car, police said.

Mr Eluay, 64, was the head of the separatist Papuan Presidium Council and was leading a campaign for an independence referendum in Irian Jaya, which covers the western half of New Guinea island and is home to huge mineral and petroleum resources. Anti-Indonesian protests and separatist fighting have racked Irian Jaya for years.

Thousands have been killed in troubled regions in Indonesia as the country struggles with a transition to democracy and a crippling economic crisis, after three decades of dictatorship under the former president Suharto, who was driven from power in 1998.

Local and foreign rights activists had criticised Mr Eluay's prosecution and accused Indonesia of muzzling free speech in Irian Jaya, about 2,500 miles east of Jakarta.

But Mr Eluay also had foes within his movement. Many activists questioned his tactics and were angered by his attempts to maintain dialogue with some Indonesian officials.

The separatist movement in Irian Jaya is a loose coalition that had been making little headway toward self-rule, and Mr Eluay's recent ill-health had loosened his grip on leadership. Indonesia annexed the former Dutch colony in 1969 after a UN-sanctioned vote for integration by about 1,000 tribal leaders.

Mr Eluay, a traditional tribal elder and politician, began calling for independence when he failed to win re-election to a local pro-Indonesian legislative council in the 1980s. He later declared himself leader of West Papua, the name separatists give to the state they want to establish.

Irian Jaya's native Papuans, who are poorer than immigrants from elsewhere in Indonesia, are mostly Christian, while Indonesia as a whole is mostly Muslim. (AP)