A shootout between security forces and guerillas has rocked the restive province of Papua, already on high alert for today’s planned demonstrations by pro-independence activists.
Gunshots were heard on Tuesday evening in a village in Papua’s Paniai district as officers from the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) clashed with members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM).
“The shooting started at about 6 p.m.,” a resident, Yafet Gobay, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday. “Some people have sought refuge in other villages.”
As part of a government plan to quell security disturbances in the province, it has sent more police officers and soldiers into districts it says are known OPM bases.
“Yesterday 96 officers attempted to set up posts here but then the OPM came and started shooting at them,” Yafet said.
Both sides, he said, were only trying to scare each other off, and they were all shooting from a significant distance.
“Nobody was hurt, but after awhile the Mobile Brigade troops left the area,” he said.
Hanok Pigai, the director of Yapkema, an INGO that works to improve health services in the region, said the appearance of the soldiers and police officers had intimidated residents.
“People feared that it would turn into another big military operation, while we still don’t know what the OPM is planning to do for tomorrow,” he said.
“In Paniai around 500 Mobile Brigade officers have set up new posts at several villages in anticipation for Thursday.”
Officers, he added, had also conducted raids for weapons and OPM-related paraphernalia at checkpoints and harbors.
A prominent Papuan priest, the Rev. Neles Tebay, said OPM guerillas led by John Yogi might be behind the latest shooting.
“They burned several government offices and damaged bridges connecting one subdistrict to the next,” he said.
Fifty years ago today, Papuans declared independence from Dutch colonial rule.
Believing Papua to be part of the country, Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, responded by launching a military operation in the region on December 19, 1961. A bloody war ensued before Papua was formally recognized as part of Indonesia in 1969.
But resistance to Indonesian rule continues today, with pro-independence activists still observing the December 1 declaration by raising the Morning Star flag.
From his cell in Jayapura, Papuan independence leader Forkorus Yaboisembut on Wednesday called for “a peaceful December 1 celebration” and condemned acts by the armed OPM militias.
“We just want recognition, a show of respect for indigenous Papuan rights to self-determination,” he said in a statement.
Forkorus was arrested last month for treason after the Papuan People’s Congress named him president of an independent Papuan republic.
Markus Haluk, secretary general of the Papuan Central Highland Student Association, said thousands of activists in 20 cities across Papua and West Papua would observe the celebration.
He did not specify what they were planning to do or whether the banned flag would be raised.
In Jayapura, the capital of Papua, the celebration will take place at the grave site of Papuan leader Theys Eluay, where activists will hold prayers, he said.
Papuan students in Manado, Makassar and Jakarta also plan to stage similar rallies in their respective cities.
Maj. Gen. Erfi Triassunu, commander of the Cendrawasih Military Command, which oversees military operations in Papua, said the Army was on alert ahead of possible large demonstrations.
“[Papuan] Police have asked for our help, especially anticipating any possible chaos,” he said.
He said the military had deployed 100 troops to each district in Papua to assist the local police.
“There are no troops from outside Papua,” he added.
Papua Police spokesman Sr. Co Wachyono said they had received additional officers from South Sulawesi and East Kalimantan, as well as Brimob officers from Depok.
He said 300 officers would be deployed to the conflict hot spots of Puncak Jaya, Timika and Paniai districts.
The three districts have seen sporadic shootouts between rebels and security officials.