By Ronna Nirmala
Nine separatist rebels and a policeman were killed in fighting in Indonesia’s Papua province, officials said Wednesday, after Jakarta vowed to come down hard on the insurgents who killed the government’s regional intelligence chief – an army brigadier general – on Sunday.
Fighting broke out between government security forces and the insurgent group in Puncak regency on Tuesday, said Iqbal Alquddusy, spokesman for Operation Nemangkawi, a joint military-police task force to hunt down the Papuan rebels.
“Based on our findings on the ground during a firefight at the hideout of the Lekagak Telenggen criminal group, it is clear that nine of them were shot dead,” Iqbal told BenarNews. He was referring to Lekagak Telenggen, the general operations commander for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement separatist organization.
Two policemen were also injured in the fighting, police said.
Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said security forces managed to overrun the rebel hideout at Maki village in Gome district.
“After the joint forces entered the hideout of the armed criminal group … a gunfight erupted, forcing them to retreat and leave the Maki village,” he said in a statement about Tuesday’s fighting.
The rebels denied that nine of their comrades were killed Tuesday.
“We have verified the information with personnel on the ground in Gome and Mayuweri districts and it turns out that none of our personnel were shot,” TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom said in a statement.
“It’s public deception,” he said. “They are losing. They are being defeated by our forces.”
Some residents in Puncak regency have fled their homes amid the fighting, said Jones Douw, a Papuan human rights activist and head of the justice and peace department at the Kingme church. The congregation is spread throughout Papua and West Papua, deeply impoverished neighboring provinces whose populace is largely Christian.
“People are fearful. Some of them have fled to the forest,” Douw told BenarNews by phone on Wednesday from Timika, a town in Mimika regency that is home to the Grasberg Mine, the world’s largest gold and copper mine.
“In Puncak’s main town, people can’t go to their farms. Church activities have been disrupted by the fighting,” he added.
Jubi.co.id, Papua’s main news website, also reported that residents in several districts of Puncak had left their homes and sought refuge at churches.
“People are having difficulties getting foodstuffs and need medical personnel to treat people who are sick. Some of them have been sick since before they left,” the news portal quote a source as saying.
President’s office: ‘We can’t ignore human rights’
The fighting broke out a day after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered a crackdown on the separatist group after insurgents killed Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha Karya, who headed the Papua regional operation of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), over the weekend.
“I have ordered the military and police chiefs to pursue and arrest members of the armed criminal group,” the president said in a televised statement on Monday.
The brigadier general was the highest-ranking Indonesian military officer to die in the conflict, which has simmered for decades in the far-eastern Papua region.
Putu Danny was visiting Beoga – a district in Puncak – to assess the security situation after recent violence there, when insurgents ambushed his convoy, the intelligence agency said.
TPNPB claimed responsibility for shooting dead the general.
The group had also said it was behind the killings of four civilians, including two teachers and a 16-year-old schoolboy, claiming they were spies for the government.
In Jakarta, national police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo ordered his personnel to press ahead in their hunt for the rebels.
“I have instructed all task-force members on duty to continue to pursue the armed criminal group in Papua. The state cannot be defeated,” he said.
Meanwhile, Moeldoko, the presidential chief of staff, defended the government’s counter-insurgency campaign in Papua, saying it accorded with human rights principles.
“We have to be firm, but we can’t ignore human rights,” Moeldoko said in Jakarta.
He said the government was prioritizing dialogue involving religious, cultural and indigenous communities.
His remarks came after human rights watchdog Amnesty International warned Monday that the government’s response to the violence in Papua must not lead to more rights abuses, amid calls by nationalist politicians for Jakarta to crush the rebels.
“Human rights are constitutional obligations so they must be a priority in every state policy. Putting aside human rights is not only against international law but also unconstitutional,” Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty in Indonesia, said in a statement.
Moeldoko said the government was still considering a proposal to designate the armed separatists as a terrorist group.
“The group has resorted to acts of terrorism, creating an atmosphere of insecurity, fear, and even murdering Papuan people. There have been suggestions to use the term terrorist,” Moeldoko said.
In March, the head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), Boy Rafli Amar, told a parliamentary hearing that crimes committed by the separatist group should be categorized as acts of terrorism because the rebels were using violence, threats, and firearms, as well as causing widespread fear in society.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the Papua region – which makes up the western half of New Guinea Island – and annexed it.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people.