CPJ concerned about Belgian journalists missing in Papua

New York, June 27, 2001 — CPJ is gravely concerned about the apparent abduction of two Belgian documentary filmmakers in the Indonesian province of Papua.

Philippe Simon and Johan van Den Eynde were reported missing on June 7, when they left for the jungle east of Nabire, a coastal city about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southwest of the provincial capital, Jayapura.

A leader of one of the factions of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or OPM), an armed group fighting for independence from Indonesian rule, claims to be holding the journalists hostage in order to attract international attention to the OPM cause.

On June 25, church mediators in Jayapura received a letter from rebel commander Kelly Kwalik. In the letter, which was addressed to Indonesian president Aburrahman Wahid, Kwalik took responsibility for the kidnapping and called for an “international dialogue” on the status of the territory. Papua, which is also known as Irian Jaya, is the western half of the island of New Guinea and has been under Indonesian control since 1963.

“Kidnapping journalists violates international humanitarian law and is certainly not a good public relations strategy,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “If the OPM is indeed holding Simon and van Den Eynde, we urge them to release the journalists immediately and guarantee their safety.”

Indonesian police have reportedly authorized the district head of Ilaga, a region in the central highlands where Simon and van Den Eynde are thought to be held, to negotiate for the journalists’ release.

“We urge Indonesian authorities to make every effort to secure the safe release of these journalists, while exercising due caution and restraint,” added Simon.

In 1996, a hostage crisis involving Kelly Kwalik’s faction of the OPM ended with an Indonesian military raid that cost the lives of two Indonesian civilians.