Agencies, Jayapura – Ten people were shot dead on Saturday in the restive region of Papua in an ambush that local police attributed to rebels, AFP reported. Two other people were seriously injured in the shooting, which police said took place in the remote highland regency of Nduga.
The Papua Police said the incident occurred when around 20 people, three carrying firearms and the others with sharp weapons, attacked a truck carrying civilians. Some of the victims were traders transporting goods to another village, police said.
Saturday's attack is the deadliest since March, when eight telecommunications workers were shot dead.
"When the truck had stopped, the KKB [armed criminal group] opened fire on the vehicle from 50 meters away," Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Ahmad Mustofa Kamal said in a statement, as quoted by AFP. "Ten people were killed and two others were severely injured."
Authorities had used a helicopter to evacuate the victims, some of whom had suffered stab wounds, he added.
The motive behind the attack remained unclear, but police and the military were now investigating which group was responsible for the incident, Kamal said.
The spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of Papua's main separatist group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, AFP reported.
Saturday's attack in Nduga regency came days after protests over a new law passed in late June that carved out three new provinces in Papua province: South Papua, Central Papua and the Papua Highlands. The legislation places Nduga under the jurisdiction of Papua Highlands province.
The government said that forming the new provinces would spur development and improve public services in the region, as well as create more opportunities for Papuans to become civil servants.
But critics fear the law could be used as a pretext to tighten the central government's control over the resource-rich area, which remains one of the country's poorest regions. They have also said it could stoke further tensions in the restive region.
The TPNPB, which the government has declared a terrorist organization, rejected the administrative division this month, threatening to shoot dead any officials involved, Reuters reported.
"Jakarta's divide and rule strategy was opposed across the board in Papua. [...] Papuans are concerned that more nonindigenous Papuans will arrive, further marginalizing them in their own land," said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer with Amnesty International Australia, as quoted by Reuters.
"It is likely Papuan armed fighters today sent a message that more nonindigenous Papuans are not welcome."
A report last week by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said the TPNPB had "unleashed an unprecedented level of violence in Papua" since its 2018 "declaration of war", driven primarily by the group's ability to acquire more weapons.