Pacific News Minute: Conflicting Reports on Violence in West Papua

Nov 15, 2017

Free West Papua Protest in Melbourne, Australia, 2012.
Credit Nichollas Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

There are conflicting reports on a crisis in Indonesia’s restive Papua Province. Police say that an armed group linked to the Free Papua Movement is holding 1300 people hostage in two villages near the world’s second largest copper mine. The group denies it, we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

There has been a series of shootings in the Mimika area going back as far as August. One police officer has been killed and six injured. The area includes the giant Grasburg gold and copper mine, operated by the American company Freeport McMoRan. After an incident in late October, police and Indonesian troops pursued suspects into two nearby villages.

And that’s where stories begin to diverge.

According to Papua’s Chief of Police, Inspector General Boy Rafli Amar, the armed group took away all the belongings of the villagers and set fire to a number of properties. A human rights lawyer named Veronica Koman, told Radio New Zealand that she’d been in touch with some of the villagers, who told her it was the police who burned down villages in an effort to kill or capture the perpetrators.

Police say that villagers are being held hostage, unable to leave their homes to tend their food gardens. Lawyer Koman said that’s a distortion, that villagers told her they stay home because they’re terrified by Indonesian police and military patrols. Police say they are using persuasive tactics, Koman says villagers report exchanges of gunfire. The armed group involved is The West Papuan Liberation Army, known as the TPN.

TPN denies it’s holding anyone hostage, but issued a statement that said it’s at war with the police, the military and with Freeport, which they described to Veronica Koman as the very root of injustice and never ending conflict. Hundreds of police and military personnel remain in the area.