In­done­sia steps up search for Pa­pua mas­sacre vic­tims


In­done­sian se­cu­rity forces stepped up the grim search for vic­tims of a mas­sacre by sus­pected sep­a­ratist rebels in restive Pa­pua prov­ince, hav­ing re­trieved 16 corpses so far, the mil­i­tary said. The fa­tal­i­ties, be­lieved to be of con­struc­tion work­ers, mark the dead­li­est bout of vi­o­lence in years to hit a re­gion wracked by a low-level in­de­pen­dence in­sur­gency.

“This was a very cruel act,” na­tional mil­i­tary chief Hadi Tjah­janto told re­porters in Pa­pua, vow­ing to catch the “rebels” and “bring them to jus­tice”. The bod­ies were be­ing sent to the city of Timika from the re­mote district of Nduga, a moun­tain­ous re­gion where the at­tack hap­pened Sun­day, the lo­cal mil­i­tary said. The dead have not yet been pub­licly iden­ti­fied and the mil­i­tary did not sup­ply de­tails about how they were killed, say­ing au­top­sies would be con­ducted.

An ear­lier eye­wit­ness ac­count sup­plied by the mil­i­tary said at least 19 peo­ple had been killed, by ex­e­cu­tion-style shoot­ings or hav­ing their throats slit. Pre­vi­ous lo­cal me­dia re­ports put the num­ber of dead as high as 31. It was not yet clear whether all the dead worked for a state-owned con­trac­tor that has been build­ing bridges and roads to boost in­fra­struc­ture in the im­pov­er­ished re­gion, the mil­i­tary said.

An­other 20 peo­ple — in­clud­ing five em­ploy­ees of the con­trac­tor — have been evac­u­ated from the area, but not all the com­pany work­ers have been ac­counted for yet. Some in Pa­pua view In­done­sia as a colo­nial oc­cu­pier and its build­ing work as a way to ex­ert more con­trol over a re­gion that shares a bor­der with Pa­pua New Guinea, an in­de­pen­dent na­tion. One sol­dier was killed and two were wounded ear­lier this week when they were sent to the re­mote site to in­ves­ti­gate re­ports about the killings, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties.

On Wed­nes­day, the mil­i­tary sup­plied an ac­count from one sur­vivor iden­ti­fied by his ini­tials “JA” who claimed about 50 rebels en­tered the work­ers’ camp last 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. The at­tack­ers al­legedly re­cap­tured half a dozen work­ers and slit their throats, ac­cord­ing to the wit­ness, who said at least 19 em­ploy­ees had been killed in all.

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. In­done­sia rou­tinely blames sep­a­ratists for vi­o­lence in Pa­pua and con­flict­ing ac­counts are com­mon. This 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 in­de­pen­dent on that date in 1961, but neigh­bour­ing In­done­sia took con­trol of the re­source-rich re­gion two years later on the con­di­tion it hold an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. Jakarta of­fi­cially an­nexed Pa­pua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham.

A for­mer em­ployee of the state con­trac­tor, who worked in the area of the week­end at­tack, said rebels had warned the firm in writ­ing last year that the work camp should be va­cated around the in­de­pen­dence an­niver­sary. “The let­ter said ‘we’re ask­ing that work­ers not dis­turb us and we won’t dis­turb them,’” the 38-year-old told re­porters in Pa­pua. He did not pro­vide a copy of the let­ter.

Pa­pua ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral spasms of vi­o­lence this sum­mer in­clud­ing the killing of three lo­cal peo­ple, al­legedly by rebels.

While con­struc­tion work­ers have been tar­geted in the past, much of the vi­o­lence has in­volved skir­mishes be­tween rebels and In­done­sian se­cu­rity forces. Some fight­ing has been cen­tred around a huge gold and cop­per mine op­er­ated by US-based firm Freeport McMoRan — a fre­quent flash­point in the lo­cal strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence and a big­ger share of the re­gion’s re­sources.

A rel­a­tive of a man killed in a mas­sacre by sus­pected sep­a­ratist rebels mourns over his cas­ket fol­low­ing the ar­rival of the re­mains in Makas­sar, South Su­lawesi, yes­ter­day.

A widow, whose hus­band was killed in a mas­sacre by sus­pected sep­a­ratist rebels, grieves fol­low­ing the ar­rival of her late hus­band’s cas­ket in Makas­sar, South Su­lawesi, yes­ter­day.

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