A British woman hostage rescued by Indonesian troops watched as her captors stabbed two fellow hostages to death, it emerged yesterday.
The Indonesian army revealed that the dramatic seven-hour battle to free 11 hostages, including four young British scientists, from 128 days in captivity, was much bloodier and longer than earlier indicated. Eight rebels and the two Indonesian prisoners were killed in the fighting. The rebels had also tried to kill the other nine hostages, the army claimed.
As the released group recovered in a Jakarta hospital, a special forces commander, Brigadier- General Prabowo Subianto, who is the Indonesian President Suharto's son- in-law, described how some 100 special-forces soldiers had stormed the mountain stronghold of the separatist rebels, the Free Papua Movement (OPM) on Irian Jaya (West Papua).
Using a pilot-less drone plane, sniffer dogs and helicopters, the special forces troops had tracked down the rebels and fought them in the jungle for several hours, said the general.
Eventually they found and freed eight of the captives. But it was not until an hour later they discovered Anna McIvor had somehow been left behind, hiding in the trees.
"Anna said the other two Indonesian hostages had been slashed," said the general. One had been hit in the neck and the other in the arm, each with machetes. The two men had apparently bled to death."
He added: "The rebels tried to kill all the 11 hostages during the clash with our troops but failed. "
For the four Cambridge graduates, Daniel Start, William Oates, Annette van der Kolk and Ms McIvor, the bloody end to the ordeal and the death of the two Indonesians with whom they had shared so much cast a shadow over the joy of their release.
One Indonesian hostage, Markus Warip, told a reporter he was happy at being released. "But we are mourning for two of our people," he said.
The British ambassador, Graham Burton, said: "The deaths have put a blight on everything, really.
"It will have had a great effect on them. Four-and-a-half months in these sort of conditions with other people - you are bound to become very close." He added: "There is no doubt that they have been under intense psychological and physical strain, particularly during the last week.
"Our main topic of conversation tonight was the lack of food during the last week. All four were avoiding any questions about the violence during their ordeal.
"The group were saddened by the death of their two friends. It also seemed that they were intimidated by meeting so many new people. They have telephoned family and friends and are looking forward to going back when they are fit and ready," he said.
Yesterday, London-based Survival International, which campaigns for tribal peoples and condemned the hostage-taking, cautioned against possible reprisals by the Indonesian government against the peoples of West Papua. A campaigner, Aidan Rankin, said: "The Indonesian government must be watched closely."
Yesterday, the nine survivors, who include a seven-month-pregnant woman who was slightly hurt with a spear, a Dutchman, and three Indonesians, were flown from Timika, in Irian Jaya, to Jakarta, where they were staying at the Gatot Subroto hospital. They had been forced to spend the previous night huddled on the mountain because of poor weather.
Television footage showed them hugging soldiers with relief and joy as they boarded the flight to the capital.
It was still unclear last night when the four Britons, who were on a scientific expedition with a Cambridge-based conservation group to study the Lorentz nature reserve, might return to the United Kingdom.
Rebel tactic put Papua on Western world's map
The desire of the West Papuans for independence stretches back to the days of Dutch rule, writes Michael Streeter.
When Indonesia was formally recognised as independent in 1949, the Dutch clung on to West Papua (Irian Jaya), which is the western half of the island of Guinea. Papua New Guinea forms the other part.
The tribal peoples were promised self-determination but in 1963 West Papua was "annexed" by Indonesia. This was "legitimised" in Indonesian eyes when they passed the Act of Free Choice in 1969; West Papuans call it the Act of No Choice.
Opposition to Indonesia from West Papua's nine distinct regions had been steadily growing and in the mid-1960s the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was born, organising armed resistance to rule from Jakarta.
In the late 1980s, the OPM abandoned its centralised structure and has since become organised on a tribal or regional basis. While the overall aim of independence remained the same, their tactics varied - with some members opting for a new tactic of hostage-taking to attract international publicity.
Their anger is fuelled by the presence nearby of the RTZ Freeport gold mine - the largest in the world - which local people claim is raping their land.
However, many separatists fear the hostage episode has been counter- productive - achieving the near-impossible feat of attracting favourable publicity to the Indonesian army.
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