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Rebel flags raised in Indonesian provinces

NEARLY 20,000 people helped raise a rebel flag in Indonesia's eastern province of Irian Jaya yesterday, as President Abdurrahman Wahid went ahead with a trip to China despite mounting separatist tension in his country.

The flag of the rebel Free Papua Movement was raised, followed by the Indonesian flag, at a ceremony in Jayapura, about 2,500 miles east of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. It was also raised in other parts of Irian Jaya - the western side of New Guinea - where a rebellion has been operating against Jakarta's rule for years.

Mr Wahid said he would not rule out repression to solve the unrest, citing the troubled provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh, and the island of Ambon. "The people also need to realise that the government is very seriously determined to continue preventive efforts," Mr Wahid said. "However, it does not rule out repressive efforts if things happen which are already in the category beyond the limits of law and humanity."

Theys Eluay, the pro-independence leader, said autonomy within Indonesia, which Mr Wahid's government has offered, was not enough. He said: "We reject the offer for autonomy... Independence is the only choice. We demand the withdrawal of the military from Irian Jaya before May 1, 2000."

The military have been accused of widespread human rights abuses in both Irian Jaya and Aceh. (Reuters)