Jerome Wirawan – The case of the alleged abduction of 1,300 people in Mimika, West Papua last year is apparently not over yet. This week, as many as three people were shot dead by the TNI (Indonesian military) in an incident that the TNI claims was a shootout with an armed group.
The problem is that one of those killed is believed to be a civilian.
Tembagapura district XVII/Cenderawasih Regional Military Command (Kodam) Information Division Head Infantry Colonel Muhammad Aidi said that during armed contacts on Sunday April 1 and Monday April 2, two members of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) were killed and scores of others wounded. The TNI refers to the OPM as an Armed Separatist Criminal Group (KKSB).
Meanwhile Private First-Class Vicky Rumpasium from the 751/Raider, Infantry Battalion was killed.
Another armed class took place at the Banti Village in Tembagapura district on Wednesday April 4, however unlike the earlier armed contacts, this time it is claimed that the TNI entered the grounds of the Sinai Opitawak Church and shot at congregation members gathered on the church grounds.
Speaking to BBC Indonesia, Pastor Deserius Adii said that congregation member Timotius Omabak was shot dead and three others wounded.
“The military entered the church grounds. At the time the late Timotius Omabak and several mama-mama [women traders] were sitting out front. They raised the red-and-white [Indonesian flag], a sign that they were not in the OPM. So they raised their hands. But the brutal soldiers entered the congregation grounds and immediately began firing”, said Deserius.
Deserius explained that there is no one in the congregation that is a member of an armed group. Moreover, according to Deserius, Timotius was a church staff member and worked as a civil servant in Tembagapura district.
“Before the TNI conducted the sweep of residential areas, we called on the OPM and the TNI/Polri not to sacrifice local people. Residents in the area are congregation members from three churches”, continued Deserius.
Unable to confirm killing
Although Muhammad Aidi has confirmed the shooting he added that the TNI cannot confirm if the victim was actually a civilian or an OPM member.
“It is quite possible that the civilians were being used as [human] shields. What is clear is that at the time of the incident they were amongst a KKSB group”, said Aidi. Aidi also confirmed that residents had raised the red-and-white flag.
“As soon as communities know that the TNI are coming they immediately raise the red-and-white flag. But it wasn’t in front of the church, but on high ground. You can believe their version, but there a witnesses, from the community”, said Aidi.
Rules of engagement
The West Papuan National Committee (KNPB) – a group which supports Papua’s separation from Indonesia – has condemned the killing in Tembagapura. The incident, said KNPB general chairperson Victor Yeimo, is a reflection on how Indonesian security forces fail to understand the rules of engagement.
“Every time Indonesian security forces launch an operation, the result is civilian casualties. The Indonesian military severely lacks and understanding of the principles of war, where civilians cannot be targeted. Doesn’t the Indonesian military have eyes to see that they were civilians?”, said Victor.
Responding to the counter accusations between government forces and pro-independence groups, Manokwari Legal Aid Assessment, Research and Development Institute (LP3BH) Director Yan Christian Warinussy insisted that an independent investigation is needed.
“I think we must give access to humanitarian workers, human rights defenders who are with human rights institutions including Komnas HAM [the National Human Rights Commission], in order to conduct an investigation”, said Yan.
He highlighted the fact that the dissemination of information on West Papua is dominated by senior military and police officers, including allegations that civilians are falling victim because pro-independence groups are using people as human shields.
“I just don’t see that our sisters and brothers who are categorised by the government as armed civilian groups use [people as] shields. Because none of the physical evidence is obtained in a balanced manner”, said Yan.
“We hear a lot of talk from senior military and police officers. But we never get information from journalists who interview groups who oppose the state so we can’t get information that is balanced”, he added.
Mimika hostage taking
The first case of hostage taking came to light in October and November 2017. At the time, the TNI and police said that an armed group was holding 1,300 local residents and had cut off road access to the Banti and Kimbely villages in Timika.
It was difficult for journalists to verify what actually happened there because access to the area was closed, as conveyed by Viktor Mambor from the Papuan Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).
“It’s difficult now. Before, prior to the incident, journalists were able to go up to Kimbely several times”, said Viktor.
“But every time there is an incident like this it becomes difficult. We can actually go their secretly, but in a situation like this we could get shot, right”, he said.
As of Thursday the TNI is still declaring an alert in Tembagapura district. Muhammad Aidi said that with the exception of Arwanop village near Opitawak, troops had succeeded in taking control of six villages in the district including Longsoran, Kimbeli, Banti 1, Banti 2, Utikini and Opitawak.
Through BBC Indonesia, the TNI has “invited”, senior OPM official Hendrikus Uwamang to conduct an investigation into a village that was allegedly torched by the TNI.
“Let us go together to the TKP [crime scene] to investigate so that we don’t accuse each other. We can guarantee their safety. We’ll bring media colleagues to jointly investigate”, said Aidi.
Aidi added that the TNI and police will guarantee the safety OPM members who voluntarily surrender and declare their loyalty to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. “They will also be guaranteed amnesty from any kind of legal proceedings”, he asserted.
[Slightly abridged translation by James Balowski. The original title of the report was Konflik Papua: TNI disebut tembak warga yang kibarkan bendera merah putih.]