By Peter Boyle
West Papuan independence activist Melkianus (Mecky) Salosa is dead, a little more than a year after being handed over to Indonesian authorities by the Papua New Guinea government.
On August 20, Salosa, a leader of the West Papuan secessionist Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), was reported to have been found dead by Indonesian security forces. He had been deported from PNG in July 1990.
At the time serious concerns were expressed internationally about Salosa's fate. He was subsequently jailed for life by the Indonesian authorities.
The official story is that Salosa (who was ill and, according to some sources, suffering from torture) escaped from a military prison in West Papua (Irian Jaya) on August 4, together with another prisoner. They are supposed to have sawed through the iron bars of their cell and scaled a five-metre wall.
The fellow escapee was Sokrates Yerisitouw, a former Irianese policeman who had been jailed for subversion. Yerisitouw's was serving a sentence of 13 years for distributing copies of a patriotic song, "West Melanesia", to school children.
Eleven days after the alleged escape, Yerisitouw is said to have surrendered and led the security forces to Salosa's hideout, where he was found dead. His body was buried on the spot, and there has been no autopsy. The military's excuse was that the body was severely decomposed and Salosa's family declined to take his body.
According to unofficial reports collected by Amnesty International, the corpse bore no trace of having being disturbed by wild animals, as might be expected of a body which the military alleged had been lying in the jungle for nine days.
"This evidence suggests that Salosa may have died some time earlier, possibly while in military custody, and not of starvation and exposure in the jungle as the authorities claimed", said an Amnesty spokesperson.
Unconfirmed reports to Amnesty have it that Yerisitouw, the key witness, has since died in military custody. Members of the West Papuan refugee community in Australia consider both deaths highly suspicious, and Amnesty considers these possible cases of extrajudicial executions.
The Indonesian commander of Military Zone VIII in Irian Jaya denies the military had anything to do with Salosa's death. He says that Salosa died of starvation and unspecified illness.
However, refugees point to similarities between this case and the death of the Melanesian cultural figure Arnold Ap, also supposedly after escaping from custody. Amnesty also reported that in May 1990, 22-year old Soleman Daundi was shot by Indonesian soldiers after surrendering. He was wanted for raising a West Papuan Morning Star flag. Eyewitnesses said that the soldiers then cut off Daundi's head and carried it to the local military headquarters, displaying it at villages on the way.
This year, a dozen more suspected OPM members have been arrested by PNG authorities and may be deported to Indonesia. Amnesty is anxious about their safety in the light of the suspicious death of Mecky Salosa.