Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Jakarta – Indonesia's military will investigate an incident in the easternmost region of Papua in which two men were shot dead, it said on Wednesday, after rights activists and a family member said the men were wrongly identified as separatist rebels.
Separatist conflict has simmered in the former Dutch colony since it was controversially incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.
The men were killed at a river near the Grasberg mine, the world's second-biggest copper mine operated by an arm of miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc, after security forces mistook them for members of the Free Papua Movement, rights activist Patris Wetibo said.
Demi Bebari, the father of one of the dead men, a 19-year-old student, said the two had gone fishing to find food because the nearby markets had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"My son was in an area for fishing, not for military operations," he told Reuters, adding that the men were only carrying rudimentary fishing gear.
Papua military representative Dax Sianturi confirmed there had been a fatal incident on Monday near the Grasberg mine and said it was under investigation.
Papua police chief Paulus Waterpau said he had visited the family, along with the military commander, to offer condolences.
"The plan is, after the funeral, we will question members of the task force that directly faced the two victims," Waterpau added.
Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman urged Indonesia to withdraw troops from some areas after a recent escalation of violence, saying separatists had offered a ceasefire because of the pandemic.
"West Papuans have been saying 'We are more scared of the bullets than the coronavirus'," she told Reuters.
President Joko Widodo has worked hard to boost development and build infrastructure in Papua since he was elected in 2014, but has faced criticism for failing to adequately tackle accusations of human rights abuses.
Violence has picked up around the Grasberg mine in recent months, and some analysts say the independence movement has gained momentum under the Widodo government.
Monday's shooting comes after a New Zealand man who worked at the Freeport mine was shot dead last month in an attack claimed by separatists that also wounded six.
[Additional reporting by Angela Flassy in JAYAPURA; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Ed Davies.]