Indonesian military accuses separatist rebels of terrorizing civilians

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Victor Mambor
Jakarta and Jayapura, Indonesia
Indonesian military accuses separatist rebels of terrorizing civilians Indonesian security forces disperse a crowd following a riot in Wamena, Papua province, Feb. 23, 2023.
Aciz Razi/AFP

The Indonesian military on Friday accused separatist rebels in the restive Papua region of killing civilians, expelling non-Papuan traders and forcing villagers to flee their homes, charges denied by the insurgents. 

The human rights group KontraS Papua, meanwhile, said security forces had burned houses in three villages, and that civilians had gone missing or been shot dead.

The rebels have carried out a series of violent attacks in Intan Jaya regency since Tuesday, threatening and intimidating residents, military spokesman Col. Herman Taryaman said in a statement. He accused the insurgents of engaging in online propaganda to blame government security forces for the atrocities.

“This has been happening in Intan Jaya regency, where the separatist terrorist group continues to terrorize, intimidate and even brutally kill civilians and security forces,” Herman said.

A government soldier was killed on Sunday in clashes between rebels and security forces in Intan Jaya, the military said. The soldier was the fourth member of security forces killed in clashes with rebels in the past 30 days. 

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, denied the military’s claims. 

“That’s not true, the military and police are the ones who commit crimes, burn houses, kill civilians and burn the forest,” TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom told BenarNews. 

“We can prove the facts if the United Nations is allowed to enter,” he said.

Human rights group KontraS Papua said soldiers and police burned dozens of houses and a village hall in three villages in the regency on Tuesday during an operation to capture insurgents.

Two days later, a “woman of advanced age” was found shot dead near her burned house in Danggoa village, while a pastor and a church member were reported missing, the group said, blaming the Indonesian military for the killing.

KontraS called on the government to take urgent action to protect civilians and the National Commission on Human Rights to launch an investigation into the violence. 

“We call on the House of Representatives and the president to review and evaluate the security policy in Papua,” KontraS said. 

Theo Hesegem said the military’s claim that the rebels were attacking locals was illogical. He is director of the Papua Human Integrity and Justice Foundation, a local human rights group.

“It is impossible for them to expel their own relatives. The people of TPNPB grew up in Papua. They know the people well. It is not logical for them to expel their own people,” Hesegem told BenarNews.

He acknowledged that the separatist group had once asked non-indigenous residents to leave the conflict areas.

“But that was an appeal, not an expulsion, because TPNPB was worried that there were spies from the military among them,” he said.

Shooting at civilian plane

Also on Friday, the military reported a shooting incident involving a civilian plane in Papua.

Brig. Gen. Sri Widodo, a local military commander, said a plane operated by local charter airline Asian One Air was about to land at Beoga airport in Puncak regency when a bullet struck the front left section of the plane. It was able to land safely.

“The perpetrators were definitely the armed criminal group who often disturb the Beoga area,” he said in a statement. “[M]embers of the border security task force from 303rd Infantry Battalion are still pursuing them.”

Rebel spokesman Sambom said insurgents shot the plane because it was believed to be carrying supplies for the military and police.

“The plane came to Beoga carrying military equipment,” he said in a statement.

“We have repeatedly conveyed this to the Indonesian government and the international community, but the Indonesian government is still stubbornly flying planes into war zones, so we will target pilots this time,” he said.

The shooting was the latest in a series of attacks on civilian planes by separatist rebels in Papua. In March, gunmen fired at a cargo plane as it arrived at Bilogai Airport in Intan Jaya Regency.

Insurgents set fire to a plane operated by Susi Air on Feb. 7 and took hostage its pilot, New Zealand national Philip Mehrtens. 

A week later, the rebels released videos where they said they would kill Mehrtens if government security forces came for them. The rebels demanded independence from Indonesia in exchange for releasing Mehrtens.

On Friday, authorities said they were negotiating for the pilot’s release and did not have details about his condition.

Papua, in Indonesia’s far-eastern region, is home to a decades-old insurgency that has heated up in recent years. 

It is notorious for human rights abuses committed by members of the Indonesian police and security forces. In addition, armed separatist Papuan rebels have been accused of committing atrocities against civilians.


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