Indonesia group fears for missing rights activists

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Five weeks after thousands of Indonesians rioted in support of the democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, a report by the government-sponsored National Commission for Human Rights said at least 74 people were still unaccounted for.

It said five people were killed in the riots, which began after police raided the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and evicted supporters of Ms Megawati, its deposed leader.

Syarwan Hamid, chief of the army's socio-political affairs unit, rejected the report. The official number of fatalities acknowledged by the military is four. General Hamid was quoted as saying reports of many missing people, feared killed by the police and military, were not to be taken seriously. "The missing people have simply not returned home. that's all," he told Republika newspaper.

The Indonesian armed forces have been accused in the past of engineering the "disappearance" of political opponents, most recently in East Timor, where 200 civilians went missing after troops fired on mourners at a funeral in 1991.

Members of the Commission for Human Rights, independent monitors, and journalists investigating the aftermath of the riots have been hampered by contradictory accounts of the numbers of missing and wounded, lack of co-operation by the authorities, and fear of retribution among witnesses.

The Independent has spoken to two men who said they saw Megawati supporters killed during the raid on party headquarters, allegedly by men dressed as supporters of a rival faction in the PDI but suspected of being members of the armed forces. The first witness, a student, said he was on guard outside PDI headquarters when several trucks arrived carrying the purported supporters of the rival faction shortly after 6am on 27 July. They produced bayonets and silenced handguns and began shooting and stabbing PDI supporters sleeping on a grass verge in front of the headquarters. Fire hoses were used to rinse down the road.

The second witness was inside the headquarters when the alleged supporters forced their way in. He said he saw them stabbing and shooting as many as 40 people. The bodies were loaded into a truck and the area was hosed down.