Police in Papua hunt suspected rebels who shot 2 motorcycle-taxi drivers

Victor Mambor and Dandy Koswaraputra
Jayapura, Indonesia, and Jakarta
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Police in Papua hunt suspected rebels who shot 2 motorcycle-taxi drivers Police and medical personnel receive the body of a telecommunications worker, one of eight killed by separatists in a remote area of Indonesia’s Papua province while repairing a telecommunications tower, in Timika, March 7, 2022.

Indonesian police said Wednesday they were hunting gunmen who killed a motorcycle taxi driver and injured another in the latest violence to hit the rebellious Papua region.

A separatist rebel group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack on the two bike-taxi drivers, saying they were informants working for the Indonesian military. The victims were both shot at around 10 a.m. after dropping off passengers in Puncak Jaya, a regency of Papua province, police said.

“The police will leave no stone unturned work to resolve the case,” Senior Commissioner Gatot Repli Handoko, the spokesman for the Indonesian National Police, told BenarNews.

One of the taxi drivers, Soleno Lolo, died from a gunshot wound to the chest, while the other, identified as Paiwa, suffered a bullet wound to the head, Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, said its forces were behind the attack.

“We carried out the shootings. That was the action of TPNPB under the leadership of Goliath Tabuni and Lekagak Telenggen,” TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom told BenarNews, adding that the two men were informants for the military and the police.

He also said the group had warned non-indigenous Papuans to leave conflict areas in the Papua region, which lies at the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.

Arif Irawan, a spokesman for Operation Peace Cartenz, a joint military and police task force, said: “There are indications that this was the work of the armed [rebel] group. We are still investigating which group it was.”

According to Kamal, police were still collecting evidence and gathering information at the crime scene.

“Personnel have secured evidence and taken it to the Puncak Jaya police headquarters for further investigation,” the spokesman for provincial police said.

Soleno’s body was flown to Toraja on Sulawesi Island for burial by his family, Kamal said. Meanwhile, Paiwa was airlifted to the town of Timiki to receive medical care. 

Inspector Gen. Mathius Fakhiri, the police chief in Papua, said he suspected the attackers belonged to a rebel faction led by Goliath Tabuni.

“They came from there (Puncak Jaya). Although since 2012 they have moved to Puncak and Timika, but some of them are still there,” Fakhiri said.

‘He was a member of TNI’

According to Numbuk Telenggen, a member of the TPNPB, many motorcycle taxi drivers working in Puncak and Puncak Jaya are actually government spies and active members of the military.

Numbuk said his group had shot and killed a motorcycle taxi driver they believed to be a soldier named Udin in April 2021.

“We knew he was a member of the TNI [Indonesian armed forces]. We had been monitoring him for a long time,” Numbuk said.

Clashes between rebels and government forces have intensified since December 2018, after rebels killed 20 people who worked for a state-owned construction company building a highway in Papua.

Last month, rebels also claimed responsibility for killing eight workers as they were repairing a telecommunication tower in Puncak regency.

Since the 1960s, Papua has been home to a separatist insurgency, while the country’s security forces have been accused of human rights abuses in counter-insurgency operations.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region that makes up the western half of New Guinea Island.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a United Nations-sponsored vote, which locals and activists said was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people. However, the United Nations accepted the result, essentially endorsing Jakarta’s rule.

Jakarta: Strategy must change

Meanwhile, the government in Jakarta said this week that it was preparing new strategies to tackle the conflict in Papua by putting an emphasis on the welfare of Papuans.

“There must be a change in our strategy to prevent communities from becoming victims,” Vice President Ma’ruf Amin said Tuesday during a visit to West Sumatra province, according to a statement posted on his office’s website.

The military, police, the National Intelligence Agency have been involved in drawing up the strategy, under the coordination of Mohammad Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s minister for security affairs, Ma’ruf said.

“We want to ensure that the people are safe and development programs for the welfare of Papuans are not disrupted,” he said.


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