Papuan Rebels Kill 8 Phone Company Workers in Puncak Regency

Yuliana Lantipo
Jayapura, Indonesia
Papuan Rebels Kill 8 Phone Company Workers in Puncak Regency Indonesian military and police officers carry a bag with the body of a construction worker killed by separatist rebels in Papua province, Dec. 6, 2018.

In the deadliest attack by insurgents in Indonesia’s Papua region since 2018, separatist rebels killed eight workers who were repairing a telecommunications tower, security officials said Thursday.

The attack in Beoga, a district of Puncak regency, targeted employees working for PT Palapa Timur Telematika (PTT) who were repairing a tower belonging to the country’s largest cellular operator, Telkomsel, according to a spokesman for a joint police and military task force.

“The attack took place on Wednesday, but only became known today,” Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said in a statement. “Eight PTT employees were killed by the armed criminal group.”

A Papuan rebel group said its members had attacked and killed the workers.

Kamal said a worker discovered the bodies after arriving at the site on Thursday and phoned authorities. Security personnel had not yet been able to retrieve the victims’ bodies because of poor weather, Kamal said.

The Puncak police department has formed a team to assist in the evacuation process and conduct an investigation, he said, adding that investigators have footage from security cameras that captured the attack.

The attack in the region in Indonesia’s far east is reminiscent of one on Dec. 2, 2018, carried out by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB). The rebels attacked workers who were building roads and bridges in Nduga regency as part of the Trans-Papua Highway project. They killed 20 people, including an Indonesian soldier.

At the time, the TPNPB said those killed were not civilian workers, but soldiers from the army’s engineering detachment. The attack prompted the government to send troops to Papua.

The same group, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

“We shot dead eight people. One person fell into a ravine when we shot him, so we don’t know his fate,” the TPNPB said in a statement that identified the victims by their names.

The statement urged the Indonesian government to immediately withdraw approval for a gold mine at the Wabu Block in Intan Jaya Regency, to close the massive Grasberg gold and copper mine operated by U.S.-based Freeport McMoRan, and resolve cases of human rights violations in Papua.

“As long as the government continues to entertain the Wabu block and Freeport is still running, we will continue to fight and fight until the last drop of our blood,” the TPNPB said.

Papua military command spokesman Col. Aqsha Erlangga said police would lead the investigation into Wednesday’s killings.

“The Papua police will hunt the killers. This is an extraordinary crime,” Aqsha said in a statement.


On Thursday, a soldier was injured in an ambush by about 15 armed separatist fighters in Beoga, about 15 km (9 miles) from the scene of Wednesday’s killings in the district, Aqsha said.

Meanwhile, civilians apparently sought refuge at a church to escape fighting between rebels and security forces.

“This afternoon, the displaced Beoga community gathered at Milawak 1 Church. Please help,” read a message on the Facebook page of “Info Beoga.” The page posted photos showing children sitting on the church’s lawn.

Violence and tensions in the Papua region – made up of the provinces of Papua and West Papua – have intensified in recent years.

In 2019, more than 40 people were killed across the region after police raided a dorm in Surabaya, Java, and arrested dozens of Papuan students amid allegations they had disrespected the Indonesian flag. Video circulated of the armed police using racial slurs against the students.

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

The OPM has fought for independence for the mainly Christian region since the 1960s in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

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 U.N. accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta’s rule.


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