West Papua: conflict continues, Indonesian soldiers arrested

West Papua Protestor

Six Indonesian soldiers have been arrested on suspicion of killing and mutilating four indigenous Papuans.

The soldiers are accused of luring their victims to a meeting with the promise of selling them weapons.

According to police, the soldiers killed them and then dismembered their bodies before stuffing them into sacks and throwing them into a river.

Indonesia has a heavy military presence in the Papua region, where separatist groups are waging an insurgency.

Papua, a former Dutch colony, declared independence in 1961, but Indonesia took control of the eastern region two years later.

Police and military authorities said they were conducting a joint investigation into the killings, which are said to have taken place on 22 August near the city of Timika.

They said investigators were questioning the suspects, whose names have not been released.

Papua provincial police director Faizal Ramadhani told the AFP news agency that body parts belonging to three of the victims had been found.

He added that authorities were continuing to look for the remains of the last victim.

The West Papua National Liberation Army, the military wing of Papua’s main separatist group, described the killings as “a crime against humanity by the Indonesian government through its security forces”.

The group called on the Indonesian government to sentence the perpetrators to death, saying that it would carry out a “retaliation operation” if its demand was ignored. 

Meanwhile, a statement from United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Interim President Benny Wenda said it is heart-breaking to hear that four indigenous Papuan civilians have been killed and mutilated by Indonesian special forces. 

The names of the dead are Arnold Lokmbere, Irian Nirigi, Lemanion Nirigi, and Atis Tini. 

“This brutal killing must be seen for what it is: state sponsored terrorism. My people have always rejected Jakarta’s impositions, from the ‘Act of No Choice’ in 1969 to the so-called ‘Special Autonomy’ that rules over us today. Indonesia knows West Papuans will never accept their colonial rule. Instead, they must enforce it at the barrel of a gun.

“These killings, which happened in Timika regency, in West Papua’s highlands, expose the racism at the heart of Indonesian rule. After shooting the four men, soldiers cut off their heads and legs, stuffed them in sacks, and dumped them in a village river. How can people be seen as human if they are treated in this way? Indonesia views us as primitive, as ‘monkeys’. They have always wanted to get us ‘down from the trees’.

“This is not the first time our rivers have been used as our tombs. In 2020, Pastor Yeremia, Zanambani, a beloved religious leader in the Intan Jaya regency, was tortured and killed by the Indonesian military. Following this, soldiers killed two of Pastor Zanambani’s family members, burning their bodies and throwing the ashes into a river to hide the evidence. Since 2019, we have seen more and more examples of Indonesia’s systematic brutality in West Papua. We have seen Papuan students murdered by Indonesian death squads, babies shot and killed, civilians in Nduga executed in military-style operations. The history of Indonesian rule in West Papua is written in the blood of my people.

“Though Indonesian police has arrested six special forces operatives responsible for this crime, we know from the death of Theys Eluay that soldiers charged with extrajudicial killing regularly receive light sentences – and are often welcomed as heroes by their military superiors. In Indonesia, peacefully raising the Morning Star flag is a worse crime than murdering indigenous West Papuans in cold blood. 

“Even if the individuals responsible for these killings are properly punished, the murder of West Papuans will not end until Indonesia’s occupation does. Indonesia must finally stop this bloodshed by withdrawing their troops from West Papua. Stop bombing villages, stop burning and occupying churches and hospitals, stop firing on us for demanding self-determination. Stop your illegal war in West Papua. Since their occupation began, 500,000 of my people have been killed. When will the world say ‘enough’?

He said as the Interim President of the ULMWP Provisional Government, Wenda issue the following peaceful demands, in order for justice to be done for these four men and their families:

*Indonesia must release all political prisoners, including the eight students who have been held since December 2021 for peacefully demonstrating on our national day. 

*Indonesia must allow journalists to operate in West Papua.

*Indonesia must stop the delaying tactics and honour their promise to allow the UN High Commissioner to visit West Papua. Indonesia has both a moral obligation and an obligation as a UN member state to allow the High Commissioner to investigate their crimes against my people. This is not just my demand: it is the demand of over 80 states, including the members of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Organisation of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States, and the EU Commission. 

*Finally, Indonesia must allow us to fulfil our right to self-determination and grant West Papua an internationally-monitored Independence Referendum. This is the only true path to a peaceful resolution.