Thousands of people have reportedly fled in terror from a large area in Paniai, West Papua as a massive combined Police and military offensive attacked villages on December 13, attempting to break armed resistance from pro-independence guerrillas.
Credible human rights sources are claiming up to 20 local people have been shot dead by Indonesian security forces around the jungle centre of Markas Eduda, during a brutal operation that is reported to have razed 26 villages, and caused over 10,000 people to flee to the relative safety of Enaratoli.
Over four full strength combat battalions of Indonesian army (TNI) Kostrad commandos from Battalion 753, Brimob paramilitary police, and elite counter-terrorism troops from Detachment 88 – all units armed, trained, and supplied by the Australian Government – were deployed in a cordon to surround the headquarters of the Paniai Free Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), under the command of General Jhon Yogi.
Urgent text messages were received reporting an attack on Markas Eduda by Brimob and the TNI. According to people in Paniai and those close to sources near Markas Eduda, by 13:30 local time the base had been surrounded by troops. At 14:05 local time a Paniai based contact reported to West Papua Media that the TNI and Brimob had entered Eduda and surrounding hamlets and proceeded to torch homes. Ground and air attacks (by helicopter) were both reported.
In a massive escalation to constant military operations that have been carried out across Paniai since April 2011, Indonesian forces dropped ground troops by helicopters into 26 villages surrounding the TPN headquarters.
An office of a non-government “Peace and Justice Secretariat” was amongst those burnt to the ground in Eduda.
Helicopters were used repeatedly before and during the attack, with a witness reporting via SMS that t upon sunrise at 0615 local time helicopters began strafing the villages in the operation area and firing teargas upon local residents. Local sources claimed that Indonesian troops fired live grenades, “bombs” and tear gas from the helicopters while storming the villages surrounding Eduda.
Unconfirmed reports described the helicopters as firing live rounds and also dropping fuel onto traditional huts which were then set on fire.
Combined forces of the military, police, BRIMOB and Detachment 88 were ferried by further helicopters into 14 locations around the headquarters, and proceeded to clear every village. Multiple contacts were reported throughout the day from both sides, and heavy fighting was occurring from resistance forces.
According to credible reports from local sources, by the close of Tuesday, Police failed to arrest any member of the OPM led by Yogi, and the Eduda headquarters were still controlled by the TPN / OPM. However reports of a heavy gun battle with troops and police Mobile Brigade was still evident as night drew close. However unconfirmed reports stated that seven helicopters were landed on the Eduda parade ground and had occupied the village, but TPN forces had retreated to the forest.
One Indonesian police officer is confirmed dead from after ongoing firefights with TPN troops, and and another seriously injured. Human rights sources have also claimed that the TPN sustained casualties, though the number or condition is unknown at this stage.
Independent West Papuan journalist Oktavianus Pogau was also in close contact with local witnesses. Yustinus Gobay, a villager Paniai who spoke with Pogau via phone, said he hold grave fears for casualties. “At OPM place we still do not know, but chances are there definitely are a lot of victims, because they were attacked from the air by helicopter,” explained Gobay.
At least 130 named villages in the Military Operations Area (Daerah Operasi Militer. DOM) have been reported by credible local human rights sources as being abandoned by residents. As each village has a minimum of four large families (min 40 people), with many housing up to ten families each (80 people), a simple demographic extrapolation indicates that between 5400 and 10800 Paniai villagers have had to flee the military operations. (Full list of villages follows report).
Church sources have reported that the refugees are seeking shelter in the Enaratoli area and are relying on traditional kinship reciprocities. No food, sanitation or medical aid has been made available by any government agency to give relief to this large number of internally displaced people.
“We do not know how long the war between the military / police and the TPN / OPM will continue,” Gobay told journalist Pogau. “We have fled our homes due to fear, and the attention of the local government doesn’t exist,” said Gobay
Local residents have expressed grave fears via SMS to West Papua Media that the current operations are designed by the Indonesian security forces as a “final push to push us over the edge of genocide, to make Orang Asli (Indigenous people) spent and murdered, fast and quick”.
Messages sent to West Papua Media from multiple sources claimed that “State of Indonesia is considered a country hostile to humanity and is implementing Terrorism Program in Papua since May 1, 1963”, referring to the date of invasion by Indonesian forces.
Since 7 December, civilians from the villages and around Dagouto and Eduda have been progressively evacuated, with no regard for welfare, by security forces. Many were housed in a multipurpose hall Uwatawogi Enarotali. This evacuation was carried out at the request of Chief of Police, Secretary of Paniai District and Commander of the Special Team Gegana Brimob, to broaden the battlefield between the TPN and the Mobile Brigade. Paniai Civilians became increasingly restless and frightened, and had little access to food or basic needs, their starving even more pronounced.
According to human rights sources, security forces have been constantly targeting remote communities that inhabit the foothills along the West-East mountain range which extends from the Grasberg to Cape Dagouto-Lake Paniai.
Local leaders led by the Chairman of the Regional Indigenous Council (DAD) in Paniai, Jhon Gobay, complained earlier this month to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Jakarta about the unrest and violence against citizens in the district due to the presence of members of the Police Mobile Brigade from Paniai.
During the meeting, DAD Paniai firmly ask the President and Chief of Police to immediately withdraw troops from Mobile Brigade Paniai district. Gobay said the situation of occupation has caused many people becoming victims of security force harassment due to the stigma of being OPM attached to the citizens of Papua, especially in the Paniai District.
The President of the Federated Republic of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, speaking from his cell in Jayapura where he is awaiting trial on treason charges, appealed to the United States and international community to urge Indonesia to show respect for human rights and democracy in West Papua.
The situation is ongoing and developing and West Papua Media will continue to closely monitor events.
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There are 27 villages burnt and attacked by Indonesian security forces and more than 138 villages forcibly evacuated by Indonesian Security forces.
Courtesy Nick Chesterfield at West Papua Media, with local sources