Ganug Nugroho, Apriadi Gunawan, Fadli, Rizal Harahap and Aman Rochman, Jakarta, Surakarta, Pekanbaru, Malang, Batam, Medan – Religious figures in the predominantly Christian Papua have joined the provincial government's calls for the central government to withdraw security troops from Nduga regency ahead of Christmas, arguing that the presence of security forces and potential armed conflict with the rebel group have prevented civilians from celebrating Christmas in peace.
The Kemah Injili (Kingmi) Church of Papua recently issued a statement demanding the withdrawal of the joint security force, which had been deployed to hunt separatist rebels with ties to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) after the latter killed construction workers in the regency recently.
Rev. Deserius Adii, one of the church leaders, expressed concern that the churches may not be able to hold Christmas services due to military operations that aim to hunt down the National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB).
Amid the security crackdown, many villagers who were members of 34 churches under Kingmi Church's authority had fled to the forests to seek shelter and some of them remained in the jungle to this day, he said.
"There is a high possibility that the 34 Kingmi churches will not celebrate Christmas in our church buildings because [of the armed conflict]," Adii said recently.
Adii said the troops' withdrawal was necessary to protect civilians. He cited unverified reports which claimed that at least two civilians, including a member of Kingmi Church, had been shot dead when security apparatus launched attacks from helicopters.
All troops must be withdrawn from Nduga and Papua, Adii said. "This is to ensure the safety of all the people of God from any slaughter."
Christian figure in Papua Rev. Hogenboor also called on all parties to refrain from violence and to follow the Christmas message of "Peace on Earth", including in the effort to build inclusive peace for the region.
Previously, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe also called on Jokowi to withdraw the security troops, arguing that residents want to enjoy Christmas services and festivities peacefully in their own villages.
"We grieve for both previous and recent deaths, but that is enough. There cannot be any more civilian casualties," Enembe said.
Just like all Christians across the country and the world, residents who celebrate Christmas in Papua have begun preparing for the joyful day.
Christian and Protestant churches in Timika, for instance, have been decorated with Christmas ornaments, including Christmas trees and rows of colorful lights outside, Antara reported.
Security forces across the country have stepped up measures to ensure the safety of everyone who will attend Christmas services, especially to anticipate terror attacks which targeted churches.
In Surakarta, Central Java, teams from the city and provincial police conducted sweeps of 16 churches on Monday. Authorities gave special security to the three largest churches, including Bethel Injil Sepenuh Church (GBIS) Kepunton, Santa Perawan Maria Regina Purbowardayan Church and Elsaday Church.
"Kepunton Church was a target of suicide bombing in 2011, while the other two churches have received terror threats over the phone," Surakarta Police chief Sr. Comr. Ribut Hari Wibowo said.
The police prohibited anyone attending Christmas services from bringing their bags into the churches across the city, he said.
Antiterrorism measures are also now the focus of the Riau Police, which saw a bomb explode at the Batak Protestant Christian Church during a Christmas celebration in Pekanbaru in 2000.
Riau Police chief Insp. Gen. Widodo Eko said they had devoted 940 personnel to secure more than 300 churches in 12 regencies and cities in the province. "The personnel are in the field to monitor the movement of any suspected terrorists," he said.
The Riau Islands Police, similarly, have deployed its antiterror task force to secure Christmas celebrations, chief Insp. Gen Andap Budhi Revianto said.
The North Sumatra Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) have deployed a team of 12 bomb disposal personnel to several churches ahead of scheduled Christmas services on Monday evening.
"The team will sterilize all churches across Pematang Siantar to anticipate bomb attacks, so that Christmas services can go smoothly without disruptions," Brimob official Adj. Comr. Yudiana Syahputra said.
In East Java, 18,000 joint personnel of police, military and local administrations had been deployed to secure Christmas and year-end celebrations in the province, East Java Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Frans Barung Mangera said.
Police personnel would stand on guard to secure churches, especially in large churches with many members, Frans said. (swd)