At least 22 die in fresh political clashes in West Papua, say officials
Flashback to a 2009 parliamentarians’ rally for independence in West Papua. Video: WestPapuaFreedom
At least 22 people have been killed in fresh political clashes in the Indonesian-ruled Pacific territory of West Papua in the past few days, say Indonesian officials.
In one incident yesterday in Nafri village, Abepura, West Papua, four people were shot dead, according to independent sources cited by the West Papua News Alert website.
Ten people were wounded by gunshots about 5.30am while the group was travelling to Arso from Jayapura on a passenger truck.
Ten of the passengers were shot while on the truck, with 4 dead and 6 wounded.
The dead were taken to the police hospital RS Bhayangkara police hospital. They were named as Ahmad Saud, 27; M. Saiun, 25; Budiono, 22 – all from Arso 9 – and Siti Amimah, 49; and Tarmuji, 49, both of East Koya; received serious gunshot wounds and are at UGD RS Abepura (emergency).
The victims were all transmigrants from outside of West Papua.
Private Dominikus Kerap, a member of Company C 756 Infantry Battalion Senggi died at the scene.
In another report by a New York Times correspondent in Jakarta, Aubrey Belford, about the Nafri ambush near Japapura, he quoted provincial policeman Colonel Wachyono as saying the armed men attacked stopped cars on the eve of large pro-independence protests planned for today.
The four dead people had been “hacked to death”, according to Belford’s report.
Belford also said the ambush happened just hours after the police had managed to quell two days of interclan rioting that killed 18 people in the province’s central highlands.
The attack left little indication of the assailants’ identities — except for a Morning Star flag, the banned symbol of Papua’s independence movement, the display of which is a crime punishable by prison sentences as long as life.
But it was too early to conclude that the attack was the work of the rebel Free Papua Movement that has fought a four-decade insurgency against Jakarta, Colonel Wachyono said. Belford’s report said:
“We can’t yet conclude that it was the TPN-OPM or not,” he said, referring to the group by a common acronym. “What’s clear is that this was a purely criminal act because most of the victims were civilians.”
That attack appeared to be unconnected to earlier fighting over the weekend in the mountainous district of Puncak, Colonel Wachyono said, where clan members supporting rival candidates for district chief clashed with arrows and spears and burned down homes in a dispute over registration for local elections scheduled for November.
Official version disputed
But activists in Papua disputed the official version of both events.
The West Papua National Committee, or KNPB, which had planned protests for Tuesday across Papua, accused elements of the security forces of fomenting unrest to discredit calls for independence. The protests are planned to coincide with a conference of parliamentarians and nongovernmental organizations in Britain on Papuan independence.
“We reckon that methods like leveling the accusation that the Morning Star was there at the killing of these people is just a trick to add more military forces or to make Papuans scared to go out, to keep them away from the KNPB’s protest,” said Oktavianus Pogau, the secretary general of the committee’s self-styled consulate in Jakarta.
Markus Haluk, the secretary general of the Central Highlands Papuan Student Association, disputed the police account of the violence in Puncak, saying that witnesses there said that the violence had worsened when the police fired into the rioting mob on Saturday, killing three.
“We don’t know if they fired warning shots or not, but during the conflict the police shot three civilians in the crowd,” said Haluk, who has clan links in the region.
Claims of meddling
Claims and counterclaims of meddling by the security forces are common in the conflict in Papua, which sits on the western end of the island of New Guinea – bordering the independent Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea – and has been under Indonesian sovereignty since the 1960s, after a UN-backed vote of handpicked delegates that has been dismissed by independence advocates as a sham.
The Indonesian government tightly controls access to the resource-rich region by foreign journalists and nongovernmental organizations, which, combined with vast distances and shaky communications, makes it difficult to verify information independently.
Understanding of the conflict is made even more difficult by the existence of splits between the various rebel factions and ethnic groups, and sporadic eruptions of violence between members of the police and military.
Many Papuans seethe at Jakarta’s control of Papua, where the authorities are frequently accused of human rights abuses and where vast natural wealth — and billions of dollars in recent government spending — has done little to curb widespread poverty.