Indonesian Police Kill Rebel in Clash Before Deadly Insurgent Attack

Tria Dianti and Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta
2021-09-17
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Indonesian Police Kill Rebel in Clash Before Deadly Insurgent Attack The wreckage of a Rimbun Air cargo plane is seen from a rescue helicopter after crashing on a mountain in Papua province in Indonesia, Sept. 15, 2021.
Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency via AP

Indonesian police killed a separatist rebel during a clash this week in Papua province that was followed by a deadly insurgent attack on public facilities, a provincial police spokesman announced on Friday.

Meanwhile, the armed wing of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM) on Friday claimed that its fighters shot down a small cargo plane, killing three people on Wednesday, although authorities insisted the crash was an accident.

Provincial police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said soldiers and police on a joint patrol on Monday in Pegunungan Bintang regency returned fire against insurgents.

“From the firefight, joint military-police personnel managed to kill one separatist member and two were injured,” Kamal said in a statement. “The rebel who died was Elly M. Bidana who claimed to be the operation commander of the Ngalum-Kupel separatist group.

“The situation is safe now, though public services have been affected because of arson attacks on public facilities carried out by the armed criminal group,” Kamal said.

After the encounter, the rebels set fire to public buildings, including a health clinic, an elementary school, a bank, and housing for teachers and health workers, police said. An OPM spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police retrieved the body of a nurse killed in the attack on the health clinic in Kiwirok district, a police spokesman said on Thursday.

Gabriella Meilani, 22, died after falling into a ravine while trying to flee from the scene of the attack. Her colleague, Kristina Sampe Tonapa, survived after suffering stab wounds and bruises.

Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the separatist movement’s armed wing, the West Papua National Liberation Army, said the groups were waging “a revolutionary war.”

“Therefore, all development programs carried out by the colonial government of Indonesia must stop, and the colonial government must be prepared to sit at the negotiating table with Papuan negotiators,” Sambom told BenarNews on Friday.

He confirmed that security forces had killed local separatist commander Bidana.

Sebby also claimed that rebel fighters were responsible for bringing down a Rimbun Air cargo plane in Intan Jaya regency on Wednesday.  The crash killed the three people on board. The plane was carrying food and construction materials for the military. 

Rebel commander Sabinus Waker issued a statement saying rebels under a leader called Odiut Kogeya shot down the aircraft. He said the rebels began efforts to shoot down the plane on Sept. 12.

Accidents involving small aircraft are common in jungle-covered Papua, which relies on air transport in the absence of substantial road networks.

‘Arrest the perpetrators’

Meanwhile, Yan Christian Warinussy, a Papuan human rights lawyer, criticized the rebels’ actions.

“It is not permissible for medical facilities to be attacked, because these facilities are also used by OPM people,” he told BenarNews.

“I hope that the TNI [military] and police will immediately arrest the perpetrators of the crime,” he said.

The Indonesian Medical Association in Papua called on the government and security forces specifically to guarantee the safety of health workers in response to Meilan’s death.

“The Indonesian Medical Association Papua Region condemns the action,” association chairman Donald Aronggear said in a statement.

“We hope that a similar tragedy will not happen again so that health workers can provide their services peacefully and without fear.”

The attacks occurred even as authorities stepped up security ahead of the National Games set to be hosted by Papua Oct. 2 to 15.

The separatist insurgency has simmered for decades in the Papua region, which consists of Papua and West Papua provinces, but violence has intensified in the past three years.

In April, the government designated separatist rebels as terrorists after insurgents ambushed and killed an army general who headed the Papua regional branch of the National Intelligence Agency. The killing prompted President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order a crackdown.

Earlier this month, suspected separatist rebels killed four soldiers and wounded two others during a pre-dawn raid on their post in Maybrat, a regency in West Papua, in the single deadliest attack on government forces in the region this year.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua and annexed the region. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a U.N.-sponsored ballot called the Act of Free Choice in 1969.

Locals and activists said the vote was a sham because only about 1,000 people took part. However, the United Nations accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta’s rule.

The region is rich in natural resources and minerals, including copper and gold, but remains among Indonesia’s poorest and underdeveloped ones.

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