Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET on 2020-02-20
Security forces shot dead an elementary school student during an alleged firefight in Papua that killed two people dead and injured two others, a local Catholic leader said Thursday, in the latest violence in Indonesia’s troubled easternmost province.
However, the Indonesian military said the slain boy was an 18-year-old separatist rebel, when he was killed in a clash with soldiers earlier this week.
Melki Tipagau, 12, and Kayus Sani, 51, were allegedly shot and killed by security forces in Galunggama, a village in Intan Jaya regency, said Father Yustinus Rahangiar, a member of the Catholic deanery overseeing the Monis, the largest tribe in the area.
“The boy was diminutive, small. I’m not sure he could carry a weapon,” said Yustinus, who visited the boy’s home.
“He (Melki) was in sixth grade, age 11 or 12 years. If people say this child is 18 years old, that must be wrong. I am sure because he was my disciple,” the priest told BenarNews.
A woman and a girl identified as Heletina Sani and Kalopina Sani were injured in Tuesday’s incident, he said.
Yustinus said the killing of a child would create an atmosphere of fear among local youths.
A list of pupils at the YPPK Bilogai Elementary School seen by BenarNews included the name Melki Tipagau, born Feb.14, 2008.
School Principal Stefanus Sondegau said Melki was a 6th-grade student there.
“In the last few months many children from Galunggama have not come to the school because of an unfavorable security situation,” Stefanus said.
But Col. Eko Daryanto, spokesman for the military’s 17th regional command Cenderawasih, which oversees Papua province, said Melki Tipagau was a member of the Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist group and 18 years old.
He said Melki was killed during clashes between rebels and a joint team of soldiers and police, and that a teenage girl was wounded by a ricocheted bullet fired by OPM members.
“The person killed was an 18-year-old OPM member and the wounded is 14 years,” Eko told BenarNews by telephone Thursday.
In a statement a day earlier, Eko said Melki’s body was found with a gun after the firefight in Galunggama. He did not say what kind of gun it was.
“Some time after the gunfight, the joint team carried out a search of the scene and found some evidence including a male corpse (18 years old) by the name of Melki Tipagau, of the Moni tribe, who was killed during the firefight and carrying a gun,” Eko said.
Eko said the military had received information from a tribal chief that Melki had joined the separatist group.
Other evidence found at the scene included a laptop, a cellphone, a handy talky, two homemade guns, a facsimile machine, a bow and several arrows, he said.
Sebby Sambom, spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of OPM, disputed the military’s account, saying all the casualties were civilians.
“The real story is that Indonesian security forces shot dead and wounded native Papuan civilians,” Sambom said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement identified the casualties as Yoparu village head Kayus Sani, Melki, his mother Heletina Sani, 31, and Malopina Sani, 11.
Violence has been on the rise in Intan Jaya since December, after Jakarta deployed more security forces in the area.
On Dec. 12, suspected rebels shot dead two government soldiers, while a resident was killed and two others were wounded by security forces last month.
The uptick in armed violence has prompted the Papuan Indigenous Council to call on the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to form a fact-finding team to investigate.
On Monday, a panel set up by Komnas HAM concluded in a report that Indonesian soldiers had shot and killed four Papuan high schoolers during anti-Jakarta protests in Paniai regency in December 2014.
Komnas labeled the killings as “a gross violation of human rights,” and the panel that investigated the incident said it was part of a pattern of “widespread or systematic crimes against a civilian population.”
In a report published in July 2018, London-based rights group Amnesty International said that Indonesian security forces had “unlawfully killed at least 95 people” in Papua and West Papua provinces in eight years since 2010. It said a majority of the perpetrators had not been held to account for the killings and most of the victims were activists and protesters.
“Papua is one of Indonesia’s black holes for human rights. This is a region where security forces have for years been allowed to kill women, men and children, with no prospects of being held to account,” Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, said at the time.
The Papua region was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.
Separatists have fought for independence for the mainly Melanesian region since the Dutch ceded the territory to the United Nations in 1962 and to Indonesia the next year.
Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated two women were injured.