National

Papuan separatist leader
breaks out of jail


Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura

The Police have deployed hundreds of personnel to Indonesia's border area with Papua New Guinea (PNG) to prevent Papua's most wanted man, Benny Wenda, from escaping to the neighboring country after he escaped from jail on Sunday.

Benny, whose trial is still ongoing at the district court, where he is charged with masterminding the attack on the Abepura police station and burned two shops in the small township on Dec. 7, 2000, escaped the Abepura prison along with another inmate Lazarus Walela early on Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Raziman Tarigan, deputy chief of the Papua Provincial Police said here on Wednesday that the police would continue to hunt for the fugitive so they could resume the trial.

Raziman said he believed the two escapees were still hiding some place inside or outside of Abepura, ""and that is why we've deployed our personnel to the border area to prevent them from escaping to PNG.""

Soedarsono, head of the Abepura prison, confirmed on Tuesday that Benny, along with Lazarus, escaped through a prison bathroom.

""They broke the bathroom's ceiling and its ventilation to get out of the prison. The escape occurred early on Sunday,"" he said.

He explained that Benny was put in the prison on the order of the Abepura District Court while he was being tried for his alleged role in the Dec. 7, 2000 attacks.

""The incident occurred when some 50 Papuan people, led by Benny, attacked the police station and torched two shops. A policeman was killed in the attack and a security guard was found dead near the shopping compound,"" he said.

Benny is the younger brother of Mathias Wenda, the field commander of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) allegedly operating on the Indonesian-PNG border area.

The two brothers helped evacuate some 500 Papuans to the central highlands of Jayawijaya because they felt unsafe in Jayapura city with its heavy military control. Last December, the Papuan group was believed to be behind the killing of six workers in a sawmill in the area.

Following the attacks, the local police and military conducted a bloody raid on houses which were suspected as the attackers' hiding places. Four people, all students, were killed during the raids.

The killing sparked protests and criticism from numerous sides, including human rights organizations, with an increasing demand for the police to investigate the killing they called serious human rights abuses. No investigations ever commenced.

Benny's lawyer Yohannes G. Bonay said the Dec. 7 attack and the subsequent raid where the students were killed must be separated because the first case was a simple criminal case while the second was a human rights violations.

""If my client Benny Wenda is found guilty in court, the killing of the four students must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to trial,"" he said.

A.B. Aronggear, chief of the local Justice and human rights office, said that he had set up a team to investigate Soedarsono because of the two detainees' escape, as there seemed to be some suspicion surrounding the circumstances.

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