1 Apr 2020

NZer killed in shooting attack in West Papua

8:14 pm on 1 April 2020

A New Zealander has been shot dead at an office of a mining company in West Papua.

Indonesian police said Graeme Thomas Wall, a 57-year-old employee of miner PT Freeport Indonesia, was among several people shot in an attack by armed criminals.

The scene of the shooting in West Papua

Paramedics attended to the site where a victim lay following the shootings at Freeport's premises in Timika, 30 March, 2020. Photo: Indonesia Police

The attack took place yesterday afternoon at a Freeport office in Timika in Indonesian-administered Papua province. Two other people sustained serious injuries in the attack and had been hospitalised. Freeport said four other people sustained minor injuries.

Indonesian authorities have pointed blame for the deadly attack at an armed faction of the West Papua Liberation Army led by a local commander they identified as being named "Joni Botak".

Police said that together with Indonesian military, they were hunting for the shooters who had fled into the jungle after the attack.

A spokesman for Freeport, Riza Pratama, said that Indonesian security forces had helped to secure the company's premises in the wake of the shooting, evacuating all employees from local offices. Freeport's operations at its massive Grasberg mine complex seventy kilometres away were unaffected.

However the company and its employees are under increasing threat in Papua. The attack comes in the same regency where the West Papua Liberation Army had claimed responsibility for recent deadly attacks on police and military whose activities in the area are connected to the lucrative mine operations.

The Liberation Army, a disparate force of guerilla fighters, had declared war on the Indonesian state, with whose security forces hostilities have escalated since late 2018 in Papua's central highlands region. It has also made it clear that Freeport is a target.

A spokesman for the guerilla force, Sebby Sambom, said the Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the attack in Timika, under the leadership of "Gusby Waker and Jhony Beanal".

"The action was carried out in accordance with the TPNPB War Declaration which stipulated that the TPNPB would carry out attacks on the Freeport Gold Company area, from PortSite to Grasberg," said a statement from the Liberation Army.

"In this case we have carried out an attack on the Freeport Employees, because we have asked Freeport Management to stop the Mining Operationsbut they are still working so we attack."

Indonesia's Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, has condemned the shooting attack.

"The armed criminal group in Papua always claims they will only attack security forces. The fact shows that the majority of their victims are civilians," he said.

"The shooting in Kuala Kencana will only add the burdens of the people and the security apparatus in Papua, who are now working hard in containing the Covid-19 epidemic.

"Our deepest condolences to the family of the victims. We stand ready to help when needed."

An Indonesian policeman on hand as employees of PT Freeport Indonesia take shelter in the immediate aftermath of a deadly shooting at the mining company's premises in Timika, Papua, 30 March 2020.

An Indonesian policeman on hand as employees of PT Freeport Indonesia take shelter in the immediate aftermath of a deadly shooting at the mining company's premises in Timika, Papua, 30 March 2020. Photo: Indonesia Police

Earlier, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the non-military arm of the Papuan independence movement, cautioned against blaming the Liberation Army.

"The ULMWP urges the international media to treat claims about the shooting with extreme caution," the Movement's chairman Benny Wenda said.

"There is a long history of the Indonesian military carrying out killings, posing as West Papuans, in order to justify further militarisation, security deals and crackdowns."

Meanwhile, the Freeport community is mourning the loss of Graeme Wall, who had worked with the company for the past 15 years as a technical expert.

"We are saddened by his passing and are working with his family at repatriating his remains," Mr Pratama said.

The spokesman said the company was working with its security personnel and police, "constantly evaluating the situation to decide on the next steps".

Mr Pratama said Freeport's mining operations in the highlands of Mimika regency had not been impacted by this incident. He added that the company's efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus would continue.

"Since the COVID 19 outbreak we have put in strict protocols of physical distancing and other hygiene measures as well as travel restrictions to minimize the risk of infections while maintain our production."

In recent days, Papua province's Covid-19 response team recorded two confirmed cases of the virus in Mimika.