Political leaders in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province urged the National Human Rights Commission on Monday to send a team to investigate violence in Nduga regency that killed about two dozen people this month.
The heads of the Papuan Representatives Council (DPR Papua) and Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) made the calls after security forces allegedly killed four civilians during an anti-insurgency operation last week that followed the slayings of 19 construction workers and a soldier by separatist rebels.
“We ask the National Human Rights Commission to conduct a thorough investigation. They must investigate not only this December incident, but also what happened last July,” Yunus Wonda, chairman of the council, told BenarNews.
The Indonesian military and police had deployed helicopters in Nduga in July after suspected separatist rebels reportedly killed three civilians during an attack on security personnel being deployed to safeguard a local election.
DPR Papua will set up a special committee to conduct an inquiry into what happened, Yunus said.
“We currently cannot get there because the area is still closed,” he said.
Timotius Murib, chairman of the people’s assembly, said the MRP has formed a committee to investigate the Dec. 2 and 3 attacks by separatist rebels that left the construction workers and a soldier dead.
The West Papuan National Liberation Army (TPNPB), an armed separatist group, claimed responsibility for those killings. Sebby Sanbom, a spokesman for the rebels, said last week that an “exchange of fire” took place and those killed were soldiers from the Indonesian army’s engineering detachment, not civilian workers.
“Because this MRP is a representative body for Papuan Indigenous People, we don’t see the Nduga case as a separate issue, but part of what has happened so far in Papua,” Timotius told BenarNews on Monday.
The Papua office of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has been tasked with monitoring a police investigation into the killings, Komnas HAM Chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik said.
“It does not have to be the form of an investigation team, but National Human Rights Commission officials in Papua are directly monitoring the progress of the investigation,” he told BenarNews.
On Sunday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement deploring the killings of the construction workers and pressing police to investigate.
“A Papua militant group’s attack on a worksite raises grave concerns that require a full investigation,” the statement quoted Elaine Pearson of HRW as saying. “Militants and responding security forces should not inflict harm on ordinary Papuans.”
‘Four civilians killed'
Meanwhile on Monday, a local youth leader alleged that security forces shot dead four civilians on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5, including at least one clergyman, while troops were trying to retrieve bodies of the workers killed by TPNPB guerrillas in the Mbua, Yall and Yigi districts of Nduga.
“Two [were killed] in Mbua and two in Yigi. One [of those killed] in Mbua is my uncle. His name is Yulianus Tabuni,” Samuel Tabani, a Papuan youth leader who once ran for office as the regent of Nduga, told BenarNews.
“My uncle was a member of the church assembly in Mbua,” Samuel said.
He said relatives told him that government forces had pressured several pastors in the area to give them information about the rebels.
Rev. Benny Giay, who chairs the Kingmi Papua Synod, said church members notified him that Yulianus had been killed.
The synod has around 60,000 members in Nduga.
“Members of the Evangelical Tent Church (Kingmi) reported that Yulianus was shot dead by security forces in the church while they were evacuating victims of the Nduga incident, but we don’t know why,” Benny told BenarNews.
Papua police spokesman Commissioner Ahmad Mustafa Kamal said officers were trying to verify the information about the alleged killings of four civilians.
“We also don’t know if they were members of the KKB,” he told BenarNews, using a law enforcement term for the separatist group.
“They might have attacked [security forces], and there was an exchange of gunfire. Some of them might have been shot. We don’t know. There needs to be identification,” he added.
In related news, hundreds of families were reported to have fled to the forest for fear of becoming victims of anti-insurgency operations by government forces.
Some of those who fled were members of the synod, Benny said.
About five clans had fled to the forest since a manhunt for the insurgents was launched, he added, citing reports from his congregation in Mbua.
“It is estimated that more than 1,500 people have been displaced,” Benny said.
He said he feared that the displaced people would suffer starvation and health problems.
However, Lt. Col. Candra Dianto, the local military commander, said residents who fled had come home on Sunday with assistance from troops.
“They have returned to their respective villages because they feel it is safe,” he said.
On Sunday, the decomposed body of a worker believed to be among those attacked by the rebels was found in Puncak Kabo, near the scene of the Dec. 2 and 3 killings, police said.
The body of the man identified as Matius Palinggi had gunshot wounds and was found about 1.5 km – less than a mile – from where the corpses of 16 other victims of the shooting were found. Security forces were still looking for the bodies of four others who were still missing.
The killings occurred after police arrested more than 500 activists in rallies across Indonesia on Dec. 1, the date regarded by most Papuans as their independence day from the Dutch.
Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province, is rich in natural resources but one of the country’s most impoverished regions.
Papua declared its independence from rule by the Netherlands on Dec. 1, 1961, but that was rejected by the Dutch and later by Indonesia.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the region and annexed it following a contentious referendum in 1969. During the plebiscite, according to rights groups, security forces selected only more than 1,000 people to agree to the region’s formal absorption into the archipelagic nation.
Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.