West Papua independence leader urges calm after killings
Helen Davidson Thu 6 Dec 2018 16.17 AEDT Last modified on Thu 6 Dec 2018 16.48 AEDT
Sixteen bodies retrieved as leader Benny Wenda calls for diplomacy and transparency on what happened in Nduga
The exiled leader of the West Papuan independence movement has called for calm after independence fighters attacked and killed up to 31 people in a remote West Papuan district on Sunday.
On Thursday the Indonesian military said it had retrieved 16 of the bodies from the district of Nduga, which would be sent to the main town of Timika. None were identified.
Benny Wenda, the chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua(ULMWP), said it was hard to know exactly what happened at Nduga, amid conflicting reports on the long-running tensions, and without free access for media or human rights groups.
Indonesian authorities, which have not responded to requests for comment from the Guardian, have said civilian construction workers were killed by separatist militants.
Independence movement the Papuan liberation army, TPNPB, under commander Egianus Kogeya, claimed responsibility but said those killed were all members of the Indonesian military (TNI).
Wenda told the Guardian he couldn’t stop the liberation army but wanted to tell them the UMLWP wanted to solve the issue “diplomatically”. “We don’t want any bloodshed, we want Indonesia to come to the international table to discuss and we can agree to a referendum That’s what our campaign is about,” he said.
“In order for us to fix what is going wrong we have to know the truth, but we cannot trust the Indonesian government’s account about Nduga, or any incidents in regard to West Papua, and this is a problem.”
If the dead were not military the incident would mark the first time West Papuan fighters have fatally attacked civilians, and an extraordinary escalation in the more than 50-year-old conflict.
Wenda said Indonesia had a history of “creating violence” and using it to justify an increased military presence, and that this incident occurred just days after Indonesia arrested more than 500 people, reportedly including Indonesians, at West Papuan independence rallies.
“Indonesia has seen that ordinary Indonesian people have come out in support of our rights, and it sent a strong signal,” said Wenda. “Then, just after that, this incident happened. That’s a little bit of concern to me.”
Translations of TPNPB social media posts, accounts from members of the independence movement and local media reports suggest 24 men were killed in the initial attack while five of seven escapees were then tracked down and killed.
Two are believed to be still missing, according to Victor Yiemo, international spokesman for campaign group the West Papua national committee, KNPB.
Neither Yiemo or Wenda have been able to contact members of the TPNPB, who are believed to have retreated into the jungle, but Yiemo said villagers nearby told him there was continued shooting between the two sides.
He accused Indonesia of dominating media with propaganda calling TPNPB “terrorists”.
“[TPNPB] are our military and are fighting for our freedom and we support them.”
Jason Mcleod, a lecturer in peace and conflict studies at the University of Sydney, said
retaliation by Indonesian forces would likely be “swift and deadly”, with widespread civilian casualties. Indonesian media reported conflict had already begun.