Tuesday, October 25, 2011

‘Common Thread’ to Papua Deaths

Twelve people have been killed in the past two weeks in restive Papua province, but an analyst suggests that there may be a sinister common thread running throughout the deaths.

The body count includes six people who were killed following a police crackdown on a pro-independence rally; three miners working for Freeport who were ambushed by unknown gunmen; two other miners killed in a clash with police; and the police chief of Mulia subdistrict in Puncak Jaya district, who was assaulted and shot dead by unknown assailants.

Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said on Tuesday that it was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the recent spike in violence, but that there were only three elements influential enough to trigger the turmoil: the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM), the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the police.

“But we can’t really tell which one of them actually started the whole thing because the information coming out of Papua is limited and sketchy,” he said, adding that reports from security forces were also unreliable.

Ikrar said he believed the escalation in violence was sparked by the stabbing to death of a civilian by a soldier on board a passenger ship from Nabire district to Manokwari, which was followed by the killing of a police officer a month later.

“But again, with all these incidents, we have to carefully question if people should link one incident to another,” he said.

If the OPM is responsible for engineering the violence, he continued, there could be more attacks to come as the group prepares to mark its anniversary on Dec. 1, which it calls Papuan Independence Day.

“If that is the case, the incidents are meant to draw international attention and emphasize the cause of Papuan self-determination,” Ikrar said.

“But if it’s the TNI or National Police manipulating events to try to get more troops and supplies posted to Papua, then that’s even more worrying.”

He added that the tactic of boosting the security presence there by creating unrest was “not a new practice,” having been carried out frequently under the New Order regime.

Earlier this year, the military said there was a need to increase the TNI’s presence in Papua, citing the province’s huge energy and mineral riches and increasing potential for secession.

On Tuesday, the police announced that the government had sent paramilitary reinforcements in light of the recent uptick in violence. The troops were sent to Puncak Jaya and Paniai districts in the Papuan highlands, joining an existing force of 14,000 police and soldiers.

Ikrar denounced the move, saying that it would have been better to send in intelligence agents to find out what was behind the violence.

Usman Hamid, from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said the government’s response was emblematic of its typical “paranoid” reaction to Papuan calls for a dialogue.

“The government must form an investigation team to find out whether it was really the OPM who kicked off the recent violence, like they always contend, despite sufficient proof,” he said.

According to media reports, at least 37 civilians have been killed in Papua during clashes and shoot-outs this year. At least eight security personnel have also been killed. Almost half the civilian deaths came from a clash in July between supporters of rival politicians in Puncak Jaya. Jakarta Globe

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