Victor Mambor Jayapura – For the second time in four months, the Indonesian military blamed a pro-independence group for a deadly attack in West Papua, although separatist rebels claimed responsibility for the incidents in September and on Thursday.
The military accused the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), which is seen as an activist group, of carrying out Thursday's attack that killed a government soldier and wounded four others in Maybrat regency. But a Papuan guerrilla group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), said its forces were behind the attack.
"We strongly suspect that [Thursday's attack] was the work of the KNPB group in Maybrat," Col. Hendra Pesireron, spokesman for the Indonesian military in West Papua, said in a statement Friday.
A gunfight erupted between soldiers from the combat engineering division and people who attacked them at around 7 a.m. in East Aifat, a district of Maybrat, he said. The slain soldier was identified as Second Sgt. Miskel Rumbiak.
Meanwhile, TPNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom told BenarNews that its fighters carried out the Thursday morning attack.
"TPNPB attacked soldiers and police who were repairing the Aifuf River bridge and killed one of the soldiers," Sebby told BenarNews.
Members of TPNPB's Sorong Raya division, under the command of Denny Moos and his deputy Zakarias Fatem, were involved in the operation, Sebby said.
KNPB denies involvement
However, authorities blamed the KNPB group for this latest attack as well as one on a Maybrat military post that left four government soldiers dead in early September.
The military said the six suspects who were arrested for the September incident were from the KNPB. The suspects, who were flown to Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, in December to be tried there, could face the death penalty if found guilty of premeditated murder.
But KNPB said it had nothing to do with either incident.
Its spokesman, Ones Suhuniap, told BenarNews that the group eschews violence and is unarmed. KNPB is known for holding pro-independence rallies demanding a referendum in Papua, Indonesia's easternmost region that comprises the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
"KNPB as the voice of the Papuan people will continue to call on Jakarta and all parties to pursue a peaceful solution," Suhuniap told BenarNews.
Suhuniap said armed violence would only harm all parties. He called for a referendum on independence as a peaceful solution to the Papua conflict.
"We urge the TNI [the military], police and TPNPB to stop armed violence that can have fatal consequences for civilians," Suhuniap said.
The insurgency has simmered in Papua for decades. Papua, on the western side of New Guinea Island, is rich in natural resources and minerals, including copper and gold, but it remains among Indonesia's poorest and underdeveloped regions.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua and annexed the region. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a United Nations-sponsored ballot called the Act of Free Choice in 1969.
Locals and activists said the vote was a sham because only about 1,000 people took part. However, the U.N. accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta's rule.
In 2003, the Indonesian-ruled western half of the New Guinea island was divided into two provinces – Papua and West Papua.
Deadly violence has intensified since late 2018 when rebels killed 19 people constructing a bridge as part of a government highway project in Nduga regency, claiming that the workers were government soldiers.
'High levels of human rights violations'
KNPB's Suhuniap blamed the ongoing violence in Papua partly on what he described as the excessive presence of government troops.
Meanwhile, Peter Prove, director of international affairs at the World Council of Churches, said that increased militarization had worsened the conflict, despite governmental promises of dialogue with indigenous Papuans. He also said the government had failed to address and improve the humanitarian situation in Papua.
"What we have seen for decades are high levels of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, denial of freedom of expression and assembly and many other violations," Prove said in the video released by the council.
People displaced by violence are not receiving the assistance they need from the authorities, while international humanitarian agencies are given little or no access to the region, he added.
"The Indonesian authorities certainly need to address the longstanding, ongoing and worsening human rights crisis in the region," Prove said.
Last month, Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said the attorney general's office had appointed 22 senior prosecutors to handle four past cases of alleged human rights violations.
These include the killing of four student protesters by security forces in Paniai regency in December 2014, he said.