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Government urged to act on Papuan death squad claims

ABC News - August 29, 2012

The Human Rights Law Centre is trying to pressure the Federal Government to act on allegations of torture and killings by an Australian-trained counter-terrorism group.

The ABC's 7.30 program has been told the group, known as Detachment 88, has been involved in attacks on independence leaders in the province of Papua. Detachment 88, receives training, supplies and extensive operational support from the Australian Federal Police.

In a letter to United Nations experts, the human rights centre's executive director, Philip Lynch, has urged them to pressure the Government to act on the allegations. He says the group has been implicated in similar attacks before.

"This letter is an urgent appeal to the UN special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial killings, to bring to the attention of those independent experts," he said. "The fact that Australia has provided support for an Indonesian counter-terror unit implicated in very serious human rights abuses."

Mr Lynch says Australia should immediately suspend its support for the Indonesian group, pending a full investigation. "These are not the first reports of Detachment 88 being involved in serious human rights violations," he said.

"Previous reports have been made an verified by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and also acknowledged by Indonesia itself through the prosecution of some members of the Indonesian National Police."

Trained in forensics, intelligence gathering, surveillance and law enforcement by officials from the US, the UK and Australia, the Detachment 88 unit was established in the wake of the Bali bombings and has played a crucial role in Indonesia's counter-terrorism efforts.

The police are ruthless, often killing suspects, and their anti-terrorism mandate is now creeping into other areas like policing West Papuan separatists.

On June 14, popular independence leader Mako Tabuni was gunned down as he fled from police on a quiet street in the Papuan capital. The men who killed Mr Tabuni, who was deputy chairman of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), were allegedly part of Detachment 88.

And in December 2010, Detachment 88 killed militant Papuan activist Kelly Kwalik. Mr Kwalik was a leader from the Free Papua Movement (OPM), a violent independence group with a record of attacking military and civilians, and Detachment 88 publically claimed responsibility.