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‘They surrender or we finish them off’: Indonesia issues ultimatum to separatists who killed 31 workers in restive Papua

  • Defence minister’s threat comes in the wake of the mass slaughter of construction workers in a remote area of Papua province
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 3:19pm

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Tuesday denounced the killings of 31 construction workers and a soldier by separatists in Indonesia’s restive Papua province over the previous two days.

“They were not just criminals, but separatists,” he told reporters in the capital of Jakarta, adding that it was one of the worst attacks in the country in recent years.

“They want to separate Papua from Indonesia, so they must deal with the military, not the police. There will be no negotiations. They surrender or we finish them off,” he said, issuing an ultimatum to the attackers, believed to be members of the separatist Free Papua Movement.

Security forces are attempting to apprehend the attackers and recover the bodies of the workers, who had been working for a state-owned construction company, authorities said.

Papua police spokesman Suryadi Diaz said late on Monday that the workers of Jakarta-based Istaka Karya were attacked on Sunday while working on a bridge construction project in Yigi.

He later added that 24 workers were shot dead at the construction site and eight others managed to escape and hide at the residence of a local councillor. The armed attackers discovered their hiding place the next day and killed seven of them, with the eighth worker slipping away.

Police were only notified of the attacks on Monday afternoon due to the remoteness of the location, Suryadi said.

A soldier was also found killed in nearby Mbua district, with the rebels believed to be responsible, according to Lieutenant Colonel Dax Sianturi, deputy commander of the Cendrawasih Military Regional Command supervising the province.

The dead workers were part of a team constructing 14 bridges in a segment of a planned 278-kilometer roadway across Papua. At present, most parts of Papua, which is covered by dense jungle, are accessible only by air or on foot.

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In the wake of the attack, the government said it was suspending all bridge construction in the region until recommendations are received from the local military and police.

Papua, located in the western half of New Guinea island, was taken over by Indonesia from Dutch colonialists in 1963 and incorporated into the country after a 1969 UN-sanctioned plebiscite.

Since then, it has had a long-running separatist movement led by the Free Papua Movement.

Rebels of the movement and some splinter groups, who are fighting for independence, have in the past kidnapped local people and foreigners, while attacking government security personnel in an effort to gain international attention.