Benny Mawel, Jayapura – Two military officers and a policeman have been killed during recent clashes in Papua, sparking fear among residents of the predominantly Christian region with the conflicts breaking out just one week prior to Christmas day.
In Papua's Intan Jaya regency, two soldiers – identified as First Lt. Erizal Zuhri and Second Sgt. Rizky – were killed in a shootout with members of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in Sugapa district, Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Col. Taibur Rahman said.
The TNI soldiers, who were deployed to the restive region as part of a joint military and police security task force, were attacked when they were on duty to secure the district while its residents prepared for Christmas celebrations on Tuesday, he said.
Taibur claimed the task force had received reports from residents that members of an armed criminal group in the area had intimidated and physically abused them.
"The security staffers were intensifying patrols in the area suspected to be the group's base when suddenly a shootout broke out and the two TNI soldiers were killed," he said in a statement.
Taibur added that the attackers were suspected to have also been behind the shooting of three ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers, who were found dead in the district with bullet wounds to their heads on Oct. 25.
In Yahukimo, meanwhile, Brig. Hendra Saut Sibarani – a member of the Riau Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) unit deployed as part of a security operation to the regency – died during a brawl with several locals on Wednesday, Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Ahmad Mustofa Kamal said.
Ahmad said the conflict broke out at Yahukimo Police headquarters after several officers reprimanded a resident for urinating on a wall next to a police post.
The resident, angered by the police's response, reportedly initiated the brawl. "He called bystanders around the post and by the road. They formed a group and then attacked the police's headquarters," Ahmad said.
The Jakarta Post asked Ahmad via text message for an update on the situation in Yahukimo on Thursday. "Everything is under control. Thanks," he replied.
As Christmas nears, these conflicts in Papua – which follow a string of violent and deadly incidents in the restive region since August this year – have caused fear and a sense of insecurity among many locals, head of Sugapa's St. Mikael parish council John Abugau said.
He said many residents were too afraid to go about their normal daily activities and were also frightened by the sound of military helicopters patrolling the area.
"People choose to stay at home, while the helicopter flies overhead. They are frightened by just the sound of the helicopter," he told the Post on Thursday.
He called on military officers to adopt a different approach to safeguard the area so that people could resume their normal daily activities. (vla)