Indonesia hunts suspects in alleged Papua mass killing

Indonesian military personnel listening to the relatives of construction workers who were shot dead by suspected separatists, in Wamena, Papua, on Dec 4, 2018.
Indonesian military personnel listening to the relatives of construction workers who were shot dead by suspected separatists, in Wamena, Papua, on Dec 4, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo on Wednesday (Dec 5) ordered the Indonesian military and police to pursue and bring to justice the perpetrators of the massacre in Papua province, where 20 people were allegedly shot by separatist rebels on Sunday.

The killings in Nduga district, in the centre of the region on the western half of New Guinea island, are said to be the deadliest bout of violence in years to hit the area, which has long been the centre of a low-level independence insurgency.

“I assert that there’s no place for these armed criminal groups either in Papua or any other parts nationwide, and we will never be afraid,” said the president.

He told reporters: “This (incident) even makes our determination stronger to continue our big task to build Papua.”

Mr Joko also instructed the public affairs and public housing minister to quickly finish the construction of the Trans-Papua road network spanning around 4,330km.

Nineteen employees of state-owned construction firm Istana Karya, killed in the incident, were building two bridges – Kali Aorak and Kali Yigi – in Yigi district, Nduga Regency, and both are part of five sections of the road network totalling 278.6km.

A military officer was later killed during a gunfight between the military and the West Papua Liberation Army, which has claimed the responsibility of the killings, according to Radio New Zealand.

The killings occurred on Sunday after the arrests of 537 activists by the police in rallies on Dec 1. The date is considered by many Papuans as their day of independence from the Dutch.

Papua declared its independence on Dec 1, 1961, but Indonesia invaded the region in 1963 and later annexed it following a United Nations-backed referendum in 1969. Since then, the country has seen a long-standing separatist conflict in the area.

Papua remains the poorest region in South-east Asia’s biggest economy despite its abundant natural resources, particularly gold and copper mined by American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan for decades.

Since the start of his administration in late 2014, Mr Jokowi has launched an ambitious infrastructure push and this includes enhancing the connectivity in Papua. 

 

National Police chief Tito Karnavian said a joint team led by Papua’s police and military commander is heading to the area of the shootings. He estimated the rebels only totalled between 30 and 50 people with 20 guns.

“As we are sending a stronger team, we believe that we can control (the situation) soon,” he said. 

Mr Tito, however, acknowledged that the location - a vast forest - poses challenges, and might allow the rebels escape. “We’ve coordinated to improve the security,” he added.

He also said the construction of infrastructure in the region must go on in line with the president’s instruction and his team is ready to ensure the security there, including by opening a dialogue with residents, among other measures.

Amnesty International Indonesia said the authorities must carry out “a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation”, while ensuring that all those involved are brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

“It is vital that the government response to the killing does not lead to further human rights violations. Security forces have a track record of violent clampdowns and this abhorrent act should be no justification for going down that path,” Executive Director Usman Hamid said in a statement.