6 more bodies found at Papua mine in wake of rebel attack

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
6 more bodies found at Papua mine in wake of rebel attack Police officers carry the body of a victim of an attack on gold miners by separatist rebels in Dekai, a district in Yahukimo regency, Papua Highlands province, Indonesia, Oct. 27, 2023.
Photo courtesy of Peace Cartenz Task Force

Indonesian police on Friday said they had found the bodies of six more civilians killed in an attack on gold miners by Papuan separatist rebels earlier this month, bringing the death toll to 13.

The victims were among a group of non-Papuan miners who, according to officials, were attacked on Oct. 16 by insurgents from the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in Yahukimo, a regency in Papua Highlands province. A day after the deaths of seven miners were reported, the rebels claimed responsibility for the attack.

The six decomposed bodies were discovered during a joint search operation by police and the military on Friday morning, following reports from South Sulawesi province residents who were looking for their missing relatives, Yahukimo Police Chief Heru Hidayanto said.

“We managed to find six more bodies, quite far from the initial location where we found [seven bodies] on Oct. 16, 2023,” he said in a statement.

Bayu Suseno, spokesman for Peace Cartenz, a police-military task force dealing with the insurgency in Papua, said he did not know whether other people may still be missing in the wake of the attack.

"But we will search again in the next few days,” Bayu told BenarNews.

The attack was the worst incident since December 2018, when rebels killed 19 road workers and a soldier.

The task force said most of the victims from this month’s attack were gold prospectors from South Sulawesi and one was from North Sumatra.

It said the rebel leader, Asbak Koranue, was part of the Liberation Army faction led by Egianus Kogoya, which has been holding a New Zealand pilot hostage since February in Papua’s Nduga regency.

Liberation Army spokesman Sebby Sambom did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

On Oct. 17, Sambom told BenarNews that his group had killed seven illegal gold miners in Yahukimo who “were military informants,” as he warned migrants from other parts of Indonesia to leave the conflict areas in Papua. 

Longstanding conflict

Tensions have arisen over the years in Papua, a mountainous and underdeveloped region in the easternmost part of the archipelago following the settlement of large numbers of people from other regions of Indonesia as part of a government transmigration program. 

Violence between Indonesian security forces and separatist rebels has spiked in recent years. 

Papua was a Dutch colony that was transferred to Indonesia in 1963 under a U.N.-brokered agreement. 

In 1969, under U.N. supervision, Indonesia held a referendum in Papua that was widely seen as rigged. Only about 1,000 people were allowed to vote and they were reportedly coerced to choose to join Indonesia.

Human rights groups have accused both sides of committing atrocities and violating human rights.

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, said the government should immediately talk with pro-independence groups in Papua to end the violence there.

He said the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a separatist coalition, had recently called for dialogue to solve the problem.

“Hostility must stop. There must be a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause to deal with displacement,” Usman told BenarNews.

He also said that blaming the Liberation Army for the killings was not enough as he urged authorities to bring criminal cases against those who harm civilians in Papua.

“That way police can be sure who the perpetrators are,” he said.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.