9 Nov 2018

Fears for civilians as West Papuan conflict rages

5:18 pm on 9 November 2018

Humanitarian concerns are growing for West Papuans caught in the middle of conflict between Indonesia's military forces and pro-independence fighters in Papua province.

West Papua Liberation Army at the issuance of a declaration of war against Indonesian security forces.

The West Papua Liberation Army Photo: Supplied

After the Liberation Army declared war on the Indonesian state in January, hostilities between the pro-independence guerrilla force and Indonesian military and police have escalated in recent months.

There has been a series of deadly gunfire exchanges in the Highlands regencies of Puncak Jaya, Nduga, Timika and Lanny Jaya.

The Red Cross in Indonesia's Papua province said many traumatised Highlands villagers caught up in the fighting had been displaced by the ongoing armed conflict.

A Red Cross representative in the Highlands, Nelson Wonda, said thousands of Papuans have fled from their villages to the bush after fighting last month.

He said many of these people don't have enough food, but they feared returning to their homes and food gardens due to the risk of getting caught up in the fighting.

According to the Red Cross, seven Papuans were killed in Puncak Jaya last month by the Indonesian military. Indonesia's military disputed the figure, saying five died in that particular exchange.

However, Mr Wonda said that the Indonesian military killed villagers' pigs and burnt many of their houses. He said the Red Cross had erected 60 tents for people unable to return home.

He added that the Red Cross was deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the displaced communities, and called on the military and police forces to withdraw from this area to allow the Papuans to return home.

Lanny Jaya violence

The West Papua Liberation Army killed a taxi driver in the Highlands because it's understood they believed he was an Indonesian intelligence agent.

The killing last week in Lanny Jaya regency sparked the latest round of fighting between the Army and Indonesian security forces in Papua's rugged interior.

A spokesman for Indonesia's military in Papua, Colonel Inf Muhammad Aidi, said the death of the driver prompted the military's response which resulted in the deaths of two Liberation Army members, and injuries to others.

The commander of the Liberation Army in Lanny Jaya regency, Purom Wenda, said his forces killed the motorbike taxi driver after receiving information that he was an intelligence officer spying on them.

Members of the Indonesian Army in Papua.

Members of the Indonesian Army in Papua. Photo: AFP

Mr Wenda said his forces remained in a shooting stand-off with Indonesian police and military which started a week ago.

Colonel Aidi accused the Liberation Army of luring the Indonesian security forces into a trap.

"This separatist group which has bases in remote jungle around Papua's centre mountain area, has long record doing crimes in Papua," he added.

"In last few months they've killed three civilians, injured a young boy with chopping knife, killed a taxibike in Ilaga, shot a civilian flight in and killed two army soldiers in Mulia."

The Indonesian military has also accused the Liberation Army of burning Hospitals and school buildings in the Banti Kompleks area.

Nduga unrest

Late last month, Indonesian media reported that a group of 15 school teachers and medical workers were held hostages by the Liberation Army in Nduga for two weeks.

One female teacher was also reportedly raped and hospitalised after her release.

But Akouboo Amatus Douw, an Australia-based Liberation Army spokesperson, said reports of hostage taking and rape were false.

He said the Liberation Army held a meeting in Mapenduma earlier this month where teachers and medical workers suspected of working for the Indonesian military were "kept quiet".

However the Army has admitted responsibility for deaths of three people after gunmen targeted an aircraft transporting Indonesian paramilitary police at the airport of Nduga regency.

At least one of the people killed, another Liberation Army spokesman said, had assisted Indonesia's security forces in operations against Papuans.

Meanwhile, Colonel Aidi denied that Indonesia was deploying a build-up of troops in Papua's Highlands in the last week. Responding to reports of dozens of heavily armed troops arriving in Wamena and other Highlands centres, he indicated it was simply part of a routine rotation of troops.

But with the conflict showing little sign of settling down, Mr Wenda echoed concerns about the welfare of Papuan villagers who had taken refuge in the jungle to escape the fighting.

"Countless people have died for this struggle," he said.

"Indonesia said that they have given us special autonomy, infrastructure, and other excuses. We do not want all that. We only want freedom."

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