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Indonesian Rioters Protest Death of Rebel Leader

March 18, 1996

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ A mob of thousands burned cars, shops and other buildings today to protest the death of an imprisoned rebel leader. Officials and witnesses said three demonstrators were killed and dozens were injured.

It was the second outbreak of deadly violence in a week in Irian Jaya, an Indonesian province that makes up the western half of New Guinea island. Three people died and at least 15 were injured last week during four days of protests against a U.S.-owned copper and gold mine.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Maulud Hidayat said the violence today broke out in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya, during a procession by nearly 3,000 people who went to Santani Airport to see the rebel leader’s body arrive from Jakarta.

Thomas Wapai Wainggai, sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1988 for proclaiming an independent Melanesian state in Irian Jaya, died Wednesday in a Jakarta prison of complications from heart problems and ulcers.

``We don’t know exactly what happened,″ Hidayat said by telephone from Jayapura. ``But the masses suddenly went berserk and started to attack and burn shops and vehicles after the procession passed the state University of Cendrawasih.″

Three demonstrators were killed by shopowners protecting their property, Hidayat said.

He said he did not have any other information about the turmoil. But one hotel worker said she saw a whole market area ablaze as mobs attacked and burned vehicles and government buildings.

``They even attacked people at government buildings and would have continued to do so at other places if the military did not intervene,″ said Florence, who would not give her full name.

Without elaborating, she described the violence as ``anti-government and pro-rebel.″

The protesters apparently were suspicious over Wainggai’s death and held the government responsible.

Henir Fournier, chief of the International Red Cross office in Jakarta, confirmed Indonesian government reports that Wainggai, an anthropologist, died a natural death. A Red Cross representative was present at the autopsy, he said.

Other witnesses said demonstrators from the airport went wild when they were joined by university students.

One witness, who did not give a name, said the procession was peaceful until it passed the university, and then the crowd went wild.

Wainggai’s body was taken today to his home village, five miles from the scene of the rioting.

His Free Papua Movement has been holding hostages, including six Europeans, for more than 70 days to dramatize its struggle for independence for Irian Jaya, a former Dutch colony ceded to Indonesia in 1963.

The eastern half of New Guinea, the world’s largest island after Greenland, is the country of Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, Freeport Indonesia, the U.S.-owned mine that dominates the economy in Irian Jaya, has resumed operations under the protection of some 400 Indonesian soldiers. The mine got back into production Thursday after four days of unrest caused by tribesmen demanding better economic and social conditions and more job opportunities.

Executive Vice President Stephen M. Jones said today that the mine has resumed its normal operations. He would not estimate the company’s losses from the rioting; the company has asked for 30 days to consider the tribesmen’s demands.