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Indonesia

Indonesia hunts separatists accused of massacring construction workers in Papua

  • Previous local media reports pegged the number of dead between 24 and 31, but authorities have yet to confirm any killings
  • Jakarta keeps a tight grip on Papua, which experienced several spasms of violence recently, including the killing of three local people
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 2:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 9:48pm

Indonesian soldiers hunted on Wednesday for rebels suspected of killing a group of 24 construction workers in restive Papua province, as an eyewitness account supplied by the military described a grisly mass execution.

The survivor’s account detailed the killing of at least 19 people, which if confirmed would mark the deadliest bout of violence in years to hit a region wracked for decades by a low-level independence insurgency.

A Facebook account purportedly run by the National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB) said the armed group had killed 24 workers on the orders of regional commander Ekianus Kogoya. Authorities have yet to confirm how many were killed in the weekend attack.

On Wednesday, some 150 military personnel were focusing their operation at Nduga, a remote mountainous region where a state-owned contractor has been building bridges and roads as part of efforts to boost infrastructure.

Some Papuans resent Indonesia’s building efforts, saying it is a way to exert more control over a region that shares a border with Papua New Guinea, an independent island nation.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo said on Wednesday he backed the hunt for those behind what he described as the “alleged assault”.

“I have ordered the chiefs of the military and national police to chase and arrest all the perpetrators of these barbaric and inhumane acts,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

Police and military teams sent to the area on Monday came under rebel gunfire with one soldier killed and another wounded in the firefight.

Four workers – including three suffering gunshot wounds – were among a dozen civilians who have been evacuated from the area so far.

On Wednesday, the military supplied an account from one survivor identified only by his initials “JA” who claimed about 50 rebels entered the workers’ camp on Saturday and led them away with their hands tied behind their backs.

The following day, the rebels shot dead a group of workers, while some tried to escape, the account said.

Today we are going to continue to evacuate any more victims and search for the perpetrators
Muhammad Aidi, Papua military spokesman

The attackers allegedly recaptured six workers and slit their throats, according to the uninjured witness, who said at least 19 employees had been killed in all.

Previous local media reports pegged the number of dead between 24 and 31, but authorities have yet to confirm any killings.

Indonesia routinely blames separatists for violence in Papua and foreign media need permission to report there so obtaining reliable information is difficult.

The military has long been accused of rights abuses against Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protesters.

At the weekend, about 500 activists – including an Australian – were arrested in a nationwide police crackdown that coincided with rallies on December 1, a date many Papuans consider their anniversary of independence from Dutch colonialists.

Papua declared itself an independent nation on that date in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the resource-rich region by force in 1963. It officially annexed Papua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham.

The region experienced several spasms of violence this summer including the killing of three local people, allegedly by rebels. While construction workers have been targeted before, much of the violence has involved skirmishes between rebels and Indonesian security forces.

The group that took responsibility for the recent killings is among the most militant factions in the Papua independence movement, and its actions could inspire copycat attacks, said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

The targeting of the military or government has generated a huge military response in the past.

Jakarta keeps a tight grip on Papua, which experienced several spasms of violence recently, including the killing of three local people, allegedly by rebels.

Much of the past violence, however, has involved skirmishes between rebel factions and Indonesian security forces.

The military has long been accused of rights abuses against Papua’s ethnic Melanesian population including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protesters.