The West Papua Liberation Army has defended its deadly attack on a mining company in which a New Zealander was killed.
Fifty-seven-year-old Graeme Thomas Wall was fatally shot in Indonesian-administered Papua province in a late March attack at the premises of a company operating one of the world's biggest mines.
Going by the acronym TPNPB, the Liberation Army is embroiled in an ongoing armed conflict with Indonesian security forces in the rugged interior of Papua region.
After declaring war on the Indonesian state two years ago, the TPNPB has launched a series of deadly attacks in the central highlands which have been met with a firm response by the larger and more-equipped Indonesian military.
The campaign escalated in late 2018 when the TPNPB's fighters under commander Egianus Kogeya massacred nineteen Indonesian road construction workers in Nduga regency.
Among its various attacks in the interim, the pro-independence guerilla force also claimed responsibility for an attack on the multi-national miner Freeport's offices in Kuala Kencana where Graeme Wall, a technical worker who'd been with the company for 15 years, was among several staff shot.
It wasn't the first attack against Freeport by the TPNPB, which seeks to shut down the company's lucrative operations in Papua where the Grasberg mine is one of the world's top two largest gold and copper mines.
The TPNPB's chairman, who also claims to be a representative of the broader Free Papua Movement (or OPM), Jeffrey Bomanak, has responded to RNZ Pacific's questions about the deadly attack.
He said the TPNPB gave ample warning to Freeport that it should close its operations to allow Papua's pro-independence leaders to negotiate their people's self-determination with Jakarta.
Bomanak admitted that from a human perspective, he was sorry that their fighters killed the New Zealander.
"But in the military perspective our stand of Free Papua Movement and West Papua Liberation Army, we already give the warning to the Freeport workers, because Freeport is a fundamental reason why we fight."Jeffrey Bomanak (middle) takes oath with a Free Papua Movement (OPM) leader Jacob Prai (right) in Sweden in 2017.
According to Bomanak, the Freeport mine, one of the main sources of revenue for Jakarta, is a core reason why West Papua is "occupied by Indonesia illegally". He said the New Zealander had not been targetted.
"I can say that our New Zealand friend died because of our bullet. But in the context of war, our military go in against the Indonesian forces. We fought with the Indonesian forces in Kuala Kencana and then sometimes workers come out and they can get bullet."
Indonesian authorities describe the TPNPB as an armed criminal group. Both police and military forces have vowed to track down the guerilla force whose bases stretch across several remote regencies.According to Indonesia's Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, the attack belied the TPNPB's claims that it only targetted security forces. He said it only added to the burden of civillians and security forces in Papua who were working to contain the spread of covid-19.
"It demonstrates that the armed criminal group never cares about the impact of their actions to the Papuans," the ambassador said.
Bomanak warned there would be more attacks against Indonesia until Jakarta withdraws its forces from Papua.
"For us if we didn't fight with them, they will kill us, systematically. If we stay and accept them, they will kill us. So there's no other option. We have to go against them. It's a military reason," Bomanak explained.
"If it creates more problems, that's okay, we fight. We know why we fight. We fight but our diplomatic (representatives) can talk outside, and then we can sit down with Indonesia and solve this problem."
There have been dozens of killings in and around infrastructure related to Freeport's operations in Mimika regency over the past two decades. But Human Rights Watch says in the vast majority of these cases, no one was held to account in the justice system.
However, Papua's Police Chief, Inspector General Paulus Waterpauw, said that a suspect in the Freeport attack was arrested last month while other members of the armed group remain at large.
Meanwhile, two Papuans killed by Indonesia's military in Nduga regency last weekend are alleged to be TPNPB members, although this was disputed by the independence movement.
The OPM said the pair were among a group of villagers displaced by the conflict in the region. Researchers have estimated that up to 45-thousand Papuans have been displaced in the months since the escalation in Nduga.
As conflict festers on in Papua region, so too does the pandemic, with thousands of confirmed covid-19 cases and dozens of deaths in Papua province.
In neighbouring West Papua province, where there are hundreds of confirmed covid cases, and several deaths, Indonesian media this week reported that dozens of soldiers deployed there in recent days were found to be covid-19 positive upon arrival.