By Arnold Belau
Suspected separatist rebels shot and killed a motorcycle taxi driver in the Papua region of far-eastern Indonesia on Wednesday, police said, about the third fatal attack on a civilian in the past week.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), an insurgent group, could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday, but its operations commander said a day earlier that it was responsible for last week’s killing of two of the civilians, who were teachers. The rebels claimed they were informants working for the government.
“We shot them dead. If you want war, face us. Don’t go after the people. We are responsible for the shootings,” Lekagak Telenggen, TPNPB’s general operations commander, told BenarNews.
The taxi driver, who was identified as 41-year-old Udin, was killed in Eromaga village in Puncak regency, said Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal. Puncak police chief I Nyoman Punia confirmed Wednesday’s incident.
“When we arrived at the scene the taxi driver had died,” Nyoman told BenarNews.
The teachers slain last week were identified as Oktovianus Rayo, 42, and Yonathan Renden, 28, who taught at a local elementary school and junior high school, respectively.
“It is true that an armed separatist group has shot dead a teacher of the state junior high school.” Nyoman told the government-run Antara news agency last week, referring to Renden.
Fellow teachers witnessed Rayo’s shooting on April 8, Inspector General Mathius Fakhiri, Papua’s police chief, said last week.
Many government soldiers and police personnel disguise themselves as motorcycle taxi drivers, teachers and traders – especially in conflict areas such as Intan Jaya, Puncak and Nduga – Gusby Waker, the TPNPB operations commander in Intan Jaya regency, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
The teachers were killed because they were informants for government security forces, he said.
“They were spies for the TNI and Polri,” Waker told BenarNews, referring to the Indonesian military and police.
“We will kill Papuans and non-Papuans who are spies for the TNI and Polri.”
On Sunday, suspected rebels also set fire to a grounded helicopter parked at Aminggaru Airport in Ilaga. Unitrade Persada Nusantara, an air logistics company, operated the helicopter.
TPNPB was also behind the arson attack on the helicopter, said Telenggen, the rebels’ general operations commander.
The rebels had also claimed responsibility for the Jan. 6 arson attack on a plane belonging to the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), an American-Christian humanitarian organization that brings aid to rural Papuans. No one was injured in that attack.
The insurgent group had alleged that the aircraft had been used to transport government military and police personnel as well as supplies, but MAF representatives denied the claims.
Meanwhile, a Papuan education official told the Antara agency that an “armed criminal group” had set fire to a school in two separate incidents last week. The fire caused losses of 7.2 billion rupiah (U.S. $493,000) at the school, the official said.
Papua Deputy Gov. Klemen Tinal called the killings of the teachers in Beoga “extremely barbaric.”
“There was no reason for them to kill teachers who have brought light,” Tinal said in a statement to reporters on Monday, urging security forces to arrest the killers.
Laurenzus Kadepa, a member of the Papuan legislative council, also condemned the killings.
“They must provide evidence for their accusations [that the victims were spies], not just speculation that could threaten the security of all humanitarian workers in Papua, and Puncak in particular,” Kadepa said Sunday.
In February, three men – who were related – were shot dead by security forces for allegedly attacking them at a community clinic in Intan Jaya. Locals and the TPNPB said they were civilians.
Since the start of the year, at least four soldiers, five civilians and four suspected rebels have been killed in Papua, according to a tally by BenarNews.
According to Amnesty International’s Indonesia office, at least 22 people were victims of unlawful killings in Papua in 2020.
Indonesian forces have been accused of committing human rights abuses in Papua.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua and annexed it. In 1969, the region held a referendum in which security forces selected slightly more than 1,000 people to agree to Papua’s formal absorption into Indonesia, according to human rights advocacy groups.