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Three Civilians Killed in Latest Violence in Indonesia’s Papua Province

Victor Mambor and Rina Chadijah
Jayapura, Indonesia and Jakarta
2019-09-18
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A civilian who was injured during a clash between Indonesian security forces and suspected separatist insurgents is taken to a plane for evacuation from Puncak, a regency in Indonesia’s Papua province, Sept. 17, 2019.
A civilian who was injured during a clash between Indonesian security forces and suspected separatist insurgents is taken to a plane for evacuation from Puncak, a regency in Indonesia’s Papua province, Sept. 17, 2019.
Handout/Puncak Regency government

Three civilians were killed and four others wounded when Indonesian security forces clashed with suspected separatist insurgents in easternmost Papua province, officials and residents said Wednesday.

The fighting between government troops and suspected West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) rebels took place on Tuesday in Olen, a village in Puncak regency, an official who oversees the regency said.

“The injured have been taken to Timika to receive treatment,” Willem Wandik told BenarNews, referring to the main town in neighboring Mimika regency. Military officials said they were verifying the casualty figures.

Security forces fired on a honai or a traditional house, after they saw several armed men entering it, witnesses said.

“The victims who were shot were all in the house” a resident who declined to be named for security reasons told BenarNews. He said he heard a series of gunshots while he was on a lunch break.

Locals said government forces were in the area to hunt a rebel group led by Goliat Tabuni and Anton Tabuni in Puncak’s Gome area.

Lt. Col. Eko Daryanto, a spokesman for the Indonesian military’s Papua command, confirmed there had been a gunfight in the area, but said the number of casualties was still being investigated.

Gome district chief Nius Tabuni said around 800 people had sought refuge at a church in Yenggernok Village, fearing clashes between rebels and security forces.

About 20 homes had been torched by unknown men, he said.

Crowds also burned government buildings and clashed with security forces when Papua and neighboring West Papua province were rocked by three weeks of violence that started on Aug. 19 over allegations that security forces had mistreated and hurled racist abuse at Papuan students on Java island.

Authorities said five people were killed during the outbreaks of violence, but Papuan activists reported at least 13 deaths.

Last week, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met with Papuan leaders at the presidential palace in Jakarta and promised better treatment of Papuans, including providing jobs at state-owned enterprises.

On Tuesday, police said they had arrested the chairman of the pro-independence West Papua National Committee (KNPB), Agus Kossay, and his associate, Donny Itlay, in Sentani, near the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura.

Kossay has been named a suspect and was wanted by police in connection with the unrest.

“Agus [Kossay] was arrested by the joint team to account for his actions,” Papua police chief Inspector General Rudolf Rodja told reporters.

On Wednesday, human rights lawyers file complaints about the Jakarta and East Java police departments with the National Police Commission, a watchdog, for allegedly violating the rights of six Papuan students who are in police custody in Depok near Jakarta.

Tigor Hutapea, an attorney for the six Papuan students, said authorities prevented him and his legal team from meeting their clients.

“They seemed to be trying to stop us from meeting our clients, which is unusual,” he told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, in East Java province, police chief Inspector General Luki Hermawan told reporters he would issue a wanted-person notice on Thursday for human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, who has been charged with inciting unrest in Papua, after she ignored repeated summonses for questioning.

Police have accused Koman of inflaming anger in Papua through some of her Twitter posts in August following a crackdown on pro-independence Papuan students in Surabaya, the capital of East Java.

Plane reported missing

In other news out of Papua, authorities said that a passenger plane carrying four people, including two pilots, lost radio contact with air traffic control during a flight from Timika to Ilaga in Puncak regency on Wednesday.

A search was under way for the Rimbun Air plane that was supposed to land at the airport in Ilaga around 11 a.m. Wednesday, said Polana B. Pramesti, Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation.

Aviation accidents are common in jungle-clad Papua, where air transport is vital due to limited road networks.

On June 28, a military helicopter with 12 servicemen aboard disappeared after lifting off from Oksibil in Papua’s mountainous Pegunungan Bintang regency. Nearly three months later, authorities in the region say they have found no trace of the missing chopper.

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