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Papuan politicians named suspects for reign of terror by supporters

Jakarta Globe - February 21, 2012

Banjir Ambarita, Jayapura – Two district head candidates in Puncak Papua were named suspects on Monday by the Papua Police for allegedly inciting a political feud that has killed at least 30 people.

Supporters of Elvis Tabuni, the speaker of the Puncak Papua legislative council, and Simon Alom, who led the transitional administration when the district was established, have engaged in clashes since July over an election dispute.

Thirteen people were killed in the first clash, while the others died in the sporadic outbreaks of violence that have followed.

"Based on the testimony of the victims, these two political figures are behind the series of brawls in Puncak," Papua Police deputy chief Brig. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw said.

Elvis and Simon, he added, will be charged under the Criminal Code for inciting criminal acts.

The electoral dispute began after both candidates said they had received the backing of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra). Elvis registered for the election with a letter of recommendation from the local Gerindra branch, while Simon had a letter from the party's central board in Jakarta.

"From our investigation, the two suspects instructed their supporters to attack each other," Paulus said. "The two suspects also left [the district] while the conflict was still raging, leaving their supporters at war with each other."

Paulus said that after the two politicians fled to safety, their supporters lacked leaders and the chaotic fighting descended into a virtual tribal war. Police have been questioning Elvis and Simon since Friday.

Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Wachyono said the police had initially tried to mediate between the two sides, reserving legal actions as a last resort. "The police have asked both sides to settle their differences and stop the conflict," he said, adding that the violence has "crippled" the district.

"All of the teachers have left," he said. "All of the public officials fled to safety, and traders have also taken their businesses elsewhere in fear of their lives."

Kalion H., a member of Puncak Papua's legislative council, said that naming both political figures suspects would only serve to exacerbate the conflict.

Hundreds of supporters from both sides have been protesting outside Papua Police headquarters in Jayapura since the men were questioned on Friday.

According to Wachyono, the police are trying to prevent future clashes by dispatching riot police and Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officers to the district.

But the isolation of the district, which is located in the remote highlands of Papua and accessible only by plane, has made it difficult to send reinforcements. Siti Zuhro, a regional autonomy expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), blamed the violence on a lack of supervision from the central government and the General Elections Commission (KPU), given that Puncak Papua is a newly established administrative region.

In another Papuan district, Tolikara, 11 people have been killed and 201 others injured in poll-related violence that has gripped the district since last month. The election there involves Golkar-backed incumbent John Tabo and the Democratic Party's Usman Wanimbo.

The conflict began when Tabo rejected the new members of the elections committee, who were inaugurated on Jan. 4. He questioned their neutrality and demanded the selection of new members.

Police said Tabo mobilized his supporters to stage rallies, prompting Usman's backers to organize counter-rallies.