The deaths of eight soldiers, who were shot by unidentified perpetrators in Papua last week, may have been due to negligence on the part of the local military command in the area.
Speaking on Monday before the House of Representatives’ Commission I on defense, Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Adm. Agus Suhartono told of a glaring omission and violations of procedures that led to the shooting incidents.
A chronology given by Agus of the event, which occurred on Feb. 21, reflected the TNI’s lack of vigilance in a tense area, where multiple attacks had earlier targeted members of the security forces.
Agus told Commission I lawmakers that the first attack took place at 9:30 a.m. local time (7:30 a.m. Jakarta time), when soldiers at a guard post in Tingginambut district were ambushed after a visit by Wendi Tabuni, a local who was known to be a friend of the TNI, although, according to Agus, he was also known as a friend of “the other group”, the Free Papua Movement (OPM).
“After chatting to some of our on-duty personnel for around 30 minutes, Wendi Tabuni left the post and immediately vanished. His departure was quickly followed by shooting from all directions, believed to have been carried out by a group of 50 or so men led by Goliat Tabuni,” Agus said, referring to the leader of OPM’s armed wing in the province.
The first ambush claimed the life of First Pvt. Wahyu Prabowo.
The second attack, Agus said, took place at 10:30 a.m. local time against seven soldiers of an 11-man platoon, which was on its way to the Sinak airstrip to pick up military communications devices. The 11 soldiers were not wearing military fatigues and were unarmed.
“These soldiers were off duty, so they went out without their uniforms and weapons. They were then stopped by a group, likely led by Murib, who has around 20 followers,” Agus said, referring to another separatist leader.
Agus added that the second attack claimed the lives of seven soldiers, comprising First Sgt. Muhammad Udin and Frans from the Puncak Military District Command (Kodim); and First Sgt. Ramadhan, first privates Mustofa, Edi, and Idris and Second Pvt. Jojo from the Argaviratama 753rd Infantry Battalion.
Also killed in the ambush were four locals identified as Yulianus, Palimbong, Yohanes Lallo and Markus Kevin Rendenan.
Agus rejected a suggestion that the TNI should be held accountable for the deaths of the soldiers.
He insisted that no procedures were breached during the incidents.
“We have never been suspicious of the locals who are close to us, including Wendi Tabuni. It’s our way of reaching out to the local community and reassuring them that we have come to Papua to help,” he said.
In order to build a good rapport with locals, off-duty soldiers were encouraged to change out of their uniforms and conceal their weapons.
“We don’t want to scare people off by carrying weapons all the time. We want to be their friends,” he said.
Agus said that in an effort to pool resources in the fight against separatist groups in Papua, a crisis center has been set up to collect information about the current situation in the province.
National Intelligence Agency (BIN) head Marciano Norman said that the crisis center would also be used to coordinate all members of the intelligence services in the province.
“We hope the center will provide the same information to all the leaders in Papua,” Marciano said.
Deputy House Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso has called on the government to deploy more security personnel to Papua after the incidents.
The House and the government are expected to discuss the latest situation in Papua in a coordination meeting next week.
“We want the government to brief us about its efforts to bring peace to Papua and whether it has lost control of the situation,” he said.
In Papua, a coalition of human rights groups has urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths of the eight soldiers.
The coalition said the presence of Komnas HAM could prevent human rights violations that tended to occur during the TNI’s hunt for separatists following such shooting incidents.
“We encourage law enforcers to be professional in carrying out their tasks. They must ensure that their attempts to find the perpetrators do not turn into seeking revenge against all Papuans,” Fery Marisan from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said in Jayapura on Monday.
Papua New Guinea’s cabinet has ordered a 2-point-5 million US dollar deployment of soldiers to patrol and protect the border with Indonesia.
It follows tension along the porous land border, such as skirmishes in West Sepik province between Indonesian military and PNG citizens.
Johnny Blades reports about the renewed focus on the Pacific Islands region’s only land border:
Papua New Guinea’s latest diplomatic move to ease problems at the border comes after a recent agreement with Indonesia to work more closely on economic development in the border region.
PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill recently met Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono to discuss co-operation in developing gas resources, hydro power and Indonesian assistance with building roads in PNG.
However Mr O’Neill has now spoken out about continual harassment of PNG citizens by Indonesia’s military.
He has ordered the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato to issue a protest note to Jakarta expressing the government’s concern about the construction of Indonesian military posts in the border area.
PNG’s Defence Minister, Fabian Pok played down any suggestion of breakdown in the relationship.
“We are trying to sort out all these issues diplomatically. We have a good relationship with our borders in Australia, Indonesia and Solomon Islands so we’re not increasing the force because of anything to do with the border. The border issues with Indonesia, we are going to handle it more diplomatically than any other way.”
A former head of PNG’s Defence Force, Major General Jerry Singirok, says recent incidents have exposed his country’s inability to adequately manage the border.
“But the relationship between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea is cordial. The actions by a few elements of the Indonesian military does not really reflect a breakdown in our relationship with Indonesia.”
But he admits that the contruction of an Indonesian military post on the PNG side is a serious infringement which requires diplomatic action.
“The Indonesian military post a few kilometres into PNG at the river called Torasi, which is south of the border, we believe it’s a serious international incident. And I think the government officials with the Defence Force have inspected the site and I’m sure they will take actions to remove the military posts.”
Reports of a military build-up in Indonesia’s Papua region remain a sensitive issue across the border, according to Octo Mote, a US-based member of a group tasked with negotiating with Indonesia on behalf of West Papuans.
“In the border area with Papua New Guinea, the (Indonesian) military has also built up and that’s why the PNG government is very worried about it and already they’ve ordered the military deployment there. So this is the situation that the Indonesian government is really building up in order to get international recognition (of its purported campaign against terror in Papua region).”
The PNG government has plans to expand its military capacity from around 2,000 personnel to 10,000.
A lecturer in political science at the University of Goroka, Donald Gumbis, says the land border with Indonesia could be a factor in the expansion plans.
“The deployment is probably part of the exercise but as I understand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia have a Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation which was signed in 1986 and that still stands and any border arrangements or any kind of build-up will be seen contrary to each other’s opinion. But if there have been border skirmishes, I think our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade along with the Indonesian Embassy in Port Moresby, as far as I know, they’ve handled those issues.”
Aside from military deployments, traditional border crossing remains part of daily life in this region.
Rules on the PNG side that border crossers need official clearance haven’t been enforced.
As for the thousands of West Papuans refugees still in PNG, unwilling to return to Indonesia, the fee of 10-thousand kina, or about 5 thousand US dollars per person for PNG citizenship is too expensive.
In Western Province alone, there are 8-thousand refugees, most of whom fled Indonesia in the mid-1980s.
Sister Maureen Sexton works for Catholic Health Services in Western Province’s North Fly district, alongside the UNHCR, to provide access to health and education for West Papuan refugees.
“For us the big thing is that these children have access to education and they have access to health. Because they fall within the Catholic diocese, they have the same access to health that any other PNG national has. There is the movement of people who have connections and land on the other side. Now from my point of view, I haven’t heard in our area that there’s any excessive or different type of response from the Indonesian side. But it is heavily patrolled and heavily monitored by them.”
PNG’s opposition leader Belden Namah has complained to parliament that the Indonesian side is much better serviced and is luring PNG citizens to move there.
The defence minister Dr Pok says the government has asked Australia for help to develop the border.
“The failure on our part is not to develop our border areas, in a holistic approach. We have to set up schools and clinics and we have not done that and we realise that this is a failure on the part of the PNG government.”
However the PNG government appears keen to stop skirmishes between Indonesian military and traditional villagers in the border area.
It presents a new challenge for the Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation PNG has with Indonesia.
Papua New Guinea’s Defence Minister, Fabian Pok, says a two-million US dollar military aid grant from China will be spent on armoured cars, troop carriers and uniforms.
The grant follows Dr Pok’s talks with his Chinese counterpart General Liang Guanglie in Beijing last month and meetings there with exporters of military ware.
The visit comes as PNG plans a five fold increase in troops over the next decade.
Dr Pok says PNG will also ask China to help maintain swimming pools and gymnasiums at PNG’s military barracks.
“They want to be seen as not being too involved in our military issues here. China is also trying to export things like uniforms and armoured cars and all these things. So it’s also in the business interests of not the Chinese military but people who are building these things to market their products to countries like Papua New Guinea.”