13 Nov 2017

Papuan hostage claims a distortion says Indonesian lawyer

7:20 pm on 13 November 2017

An Indonesian human rights lawyer says there is no hostage crisis in the Mimika regency of Papua province as claimed by police and government officials.

no caption

Photo: AFP

Police said an armed group of the Free Papua Movement had been holding 1300 people hostage in the area near the Grasberg mine operated by multinational Freeport.

The West Papua National Liberation Army, or TPN, recently waged war on the Indonesian state which blamed it for recent shootings on the road to the mine.

Police claimed the TPN was preventing them from evacuating Kimbely and Banti villages.

But the lawyer Veronica Koman said this was a distortion and that local people told her they were able to leave their villages.

"Police and military have been patrolling there, like stationed there. And what prevents the villagers to go back and forth is that they are terrified by the Indonesian police and military," she said.

"They are afraid that they will get shot. So that's what is actually happening there."

Ms Koman was in contact with people in the villages, as well as the TPN, seeking to verify Indonesian media reports about the conflict.

Indonesian police and military said they were trying to capture the perpetators of the shootings, which killed one person and injured several others in September.

Police said their approach was a "persuasive" one, however, there were sporadic exchanges of gunfire, according to Ms Koman.

She also said that contrary to Indonesian media reports, the heavy presence of the security forces was hampering, rather than assisting, the villagers' ability to access their food gardens.

"They are being intimidated and reluctant to garden, so they've just been living and eating just by buying stuff from kiosks. But they've also been intimidated by lots of questions by police and military while they buy their food.

"So the Papua [provincial] government has been trying to send food to Banti village, but police blocked this access," said Ms Korman.

While police conducted a ceremonial opening of access to the village, the villagers still had not received the food from the provincial government.

The Freeport McMoran mine near Grasberg, West Papua

The Freeport McMoran mine near Grasberg, West Papua Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, the escalating tensions in Mimika have prompted Freeport to temporarily shut the main supply route to its Grasberg mine complex

Indonesian police said about 200 police and military personnel had been deployed in preparation to secure the area by force, if necessary.

Police had distributed leaflets in the area, urging what they called the "armed criminal group" to give themselves up and surrender weapons.

Ms Koman said police had been referring to the TPN this way because they were reluctant to acknowledge the pro-independence TPN or OPM in any way.

It also allowed them "justification to just randomly sweep people, burn down villages, and it means that they don't have a specific target."

"These are civilians at stake here," said Ms Koman, who said that a local man, Martinus Beanal, had gone missing last week and that his family feared that he was dead at the hands of security forces.

Police told local media that the TPN shot Mr Beanal, a Freeport employee.

"The TPN Mimika stated that they declared war because Freeport is the very root of injustice and never-ending conflict in West Papua, and they will not stop, they are willing to die until Freeport is out of West Papua," said Ms Koman.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs