By Victor Mambor
Suspected separatist rebels gunned down 10 civilians and wounded two others on Saturday in Indonesia’s Papua region, in one of the deadliest attacks in the area since 2018, police said.
The attack in Nduga regency came a little over two weeks after legislators voted to create three new provinces in Papua amid opposition from indigenous people and rebel groups.
Gunmen, some armed with rifles and handguns, ambushed the victims who were traveling in a truck at around 9 a.m., said Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal.
“When the truck stopped, they fired shots at the vehicle,” he said.
Faizal Ramadhani, chief criminal investigator at the Papua police, blamed the attack on the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the separatist Free Papua Movement.
“Regarding the motive and chronology of the incident, we are still investigating,” Faizal said.
However, Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the TPNPB, said he had no information on the attack.
Still, he said that non-indigenous Papuans had been warned to leave conflict zones.
“We have warned Indonesians who are in war zones, including Nduga, to leave these areas immediately because given the development of the conflict, the intensity of fighting will increase,” Sambom told BenarNews.
Papua, on the western side of New Guinea Island, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency since the mainly Melanesian region was incorporated into Indonesia in a United Nations-administered ballot in the late 1960s.
Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said Saturday’s attack was one of the deadliest in recent years.
In December 2018, 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.
In March this year, insurgents killed eight workers who were repairing a telecommunications tower in Beoga, a district of Puncak regency,
“The security approach has proven to have failed to defuse the conflict’s escalation,” Usman told BenarNews, referring to government policy to deploy more security forces since 2018 instead of negotiating with the separatists.
The latest attack occurred about two weeks after the House of Representatives passed three bills on the creation of three new provinces in Papua which many indigenous people oppose as a divisive tactic.
The New Autonomous Region laws pave the way for the formation of the provinces of South Papua, Central Papua, and Papua Highlands, in addition to the existing provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Thousands of Papuans have taken take to the streets against the establishment of the new provinces, which they said will marginalize indigenous people because an expected influx of migrants from other parts of Indonesia.
Papua has been home to a separatist insurgency since the 1960s. In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region.
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.