Indonesian forces maintain widespread military assault on villagers in Paniai, West Papua

By Nick Chesterfield and local sources at

Special report and update

January 14 2012

Local human rights monitors report from the remote Paniai district of West Papua that Indonesian security forces continue to maintain a “disproportionate” military offensive since early January, intensifying the displacement of tens of thousands of villagers who fled from several weeks of village burnings in December.

Indonesia’s Australian trained Detachment 88 counterterrorism troops and Brimob paramilitary police together with Indonesian army battalions, are continuing to conduct search, capture and cordon missions on the villages in the hunt for the forces of a National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebsan Nasional or TPN) commander Jhon Yogi.

This is despite Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyhono ordering the immediate suspension of the offensive and withdrawal of all non-organic security forces from Paniai, when meeting with West Papuan church leaders on December 12 at his residence in Bogor, West Java.  No firm date for withdrawal was given.

Papua Police spokesman Wachyono, told the Jakarta Globe that 481 Brimob and Densus 88 members deployed in Papua from Jakarta, East Kalimantan and North Sulawesi would leave Papua by January 23.  However West Papua Media understands from sources on the ground that these troops will significantly escalate the pace of attacks on civilians in the lead up to the departure.  Local human rights sources have further questioned the ability of independent monitoring of this withdrawal when the Indonesian government is continuing to enforce an access ban on media to the area.

Yogi’s forces have consistently avoided capture since the offensive began, despite sustaining significant casualties.  This continued escape and evasion has raised pertinent questions from observers on the real aims of the Indonesian security force offensive, in an area that has extensive gold deposits and a brutal history of land use conflict triggered by a lucrative “legal” and illegal gold trade.  Several foreign gold mining companies continue to operate in the area during the offensive, and Brimob police and assets, that have been contracted to provide mine security to these companies, are continuing to be utilised in the ongoing offensive.

The systemic excessive force by Brimob and Indonesian security forces working for foreign mining interests are again under the spotlight across Indonesia after Brimob troops were recently caught on video uploaded to Youtube opening fire on a protest on behalf of another Australian gold mining company Arc Exploration in Bima, Sumbawa.  At least 3 protestors were killed and 11 seriously wounded as local residents held a non-violent protest against the destruction of their village lands by the gold mine.

Credible information during the Paniai offensive has been incredibly difficult to verify due to the continuing Indonesian government ban on all journalists and foreign observers from coming to the area.  Indonesian journalists covering have not been able to access the district either, despite article claiming that they have been present.  However, stringers for West Papua Media, human rights monitors from Elsham, church officials, and witnesses have been able to get close to the area to report on the situation, which by all accounts in worsening for civilians.  Indonesian security forces however are continuing to block any independent access to the immediate conflict area around the former TPN headquarters of Markas Eduda to verify or rule out human rights abuses, and most reports are still coming from interviews with refugees who have fled from the fighting.

West Papua Media has repeatedly attempted to contact spokespeople for the Indonesian police operating in Paniai, however no replies have been forthcoming.

Church* and Human rights sources have claimed that security forces are continuing to indiscriminately target civilians in the campaign, and have embarked on a policy of village and church burnings. According to detailed reports provided to West Papua Media by investigators, Brimob and D88 troops have burnt down 29 churches, 13 primary schools and 2 junior schools, and 13 villages have been destroyed over the New Year period.  The razed villages are spread out across the south and west of Wegamo, and in Ekadide areas.

Local witnesses interviewed by human rights observers have reported that civilian helicopters have again been used in the intensified security offensive, with allegations that two helicopters belonging to mining companies operating in the area have been again used by troops to continue to strafe villages, drop live and gas grenades and ferry troops into the fighting areas.   Multiple witnesses confirmed that one of the helicopters was a civilian Squirrel AS355 previously implicated in attacks, and identified formally with a helicopter identification sheet provided to West Papua Media stringers and human rights workers.

On December 21, West Papua Media published allegations that an Australian mining Company was supplying helicopter support to the security operations, having contracted Brimob paramilitary police to be used as mine security.  Incredibly, the management of West Wits Mining and Paniai Gold continue to refuse to make comment or denials on the explosive allegations.

According to the report received, around dawn (0600) on the morning of January 1, 2012, A civilian Squirrel (pictured)

The AS355 Squirrel helicopter used by Brimob on December 13, and allegedly used over the New Year Paniai offensive (File: West Papua Media)

helicopter conducted what the report describes as “surgery” (surgical military strikes) on Wege mountain, and was used to ferry troops between White Sands and the now-occupied former TPN headquarters of Markas Eduda.  Villagers in the White Sands area have been forcibly evacuated by Brimob troops and are still unable to return.

Hana Degei (37), Jemi Gobai (26), Oktolince Degei (20), Menase Kayame (41), Mabipai Gobai (18), Silpa Kayame (32) all from Dagouto, and Peter Kudiai, a 14 year old school student from Badauwo were all confirmed killed by Brimob and D88 troops in the New Year offensive, adding to the toll of those killed during December’s operations.

In the report, church sources stress that full extent of deaths from the Paniai offensive is still being shrouded by deliberate obfuscation and cover-up from Indonesian security forces.  “The full death toll from the armed clashes between Brimob and the TPN we do not know, because our religious and community leaders have been refused access to the Eduda conflict area,” the report states.  “Thus, we also have not been able to collect (exhaustive casualty) data which is accompanied by clear facts.  Perhaps Brimob forces and TPN knows how many are wounded and dead due to gunshot wounds, (but) all the information is still closed to the public,” the report claimed.

Local sources have also expressed concern for the longer term humanitarian situation across Paniai when and if the offensive finishes, due to the deliberate village burnings.  According to both church sources, Brimob and D88 deliberately destroyed and burnt food gardens across the offensive area, and burned down fences designed to keep livestock out.  Surviving cattle have been moving freely and have eaten whatever food plants have survived the destruction, stoking fears of starvation for already stressed and displaced local villagers

Together with villages forcibly evacuated as reported in December, over 150 villages are now vacant, displacing at least 9000 civilians.

Indonesian officials have blatantly misrepresented the scale of displacement, claiming that only 1715 were displaced and all those “temporarily evacuated” were being supported at a military controlled “care centre”.  This number is failing to take into account those who are in grave fear of the security forces running the “care centre”, and those who are staying with extended families and/or tribal networks.  So far the 1715 have not been able to return to their villages, and their conditions at the “care centres” are deteriorating from already grave conditions, according to local observers.

An Indonesian health worker who has been in Enaratoli during the offensive, and who declined to be identified publicly after contacting West Papua Media privately via SMS, described the situation as extremely tense and a human disaster.  He also expressed concern, from his observations and conversations with displaced locals, that there seems to be a wider plan from Indonesian security forces for the long-term.

“Everyone here knows that Brimob are in the gold trade across Paniai, doing business for and with both orang bule {white man} and Javanese, and now they are clearing people whose villages are on top of the gold diggings” the health worker told West Papua Media – in English – in an SMS exchange.  “This human disaster is happening, and we are part of it, but who has ordered it?   Is it just the police looking for golden scrapings, or is someone richer telling them to do it?”

West Papua Media has not been able to fully verify the authenticity of this source’s claimed identity, given the security risks of identifying them publicly speaking out.

The Paniai region has had a long and brutal history of land use conflicts between the Indonesian colonists and local people, mainly stemming from the illegal gold trade.

The church human rights investigations have also reported that all normal community activities in the conflict are have ceased, with those churches and schools not yet burnt by Indonesian security forces closed indefinitely, and local employment has also ceased – further exacerbating the humanitarian disaster in Paniai.

*Due to the danger faced by local church officials from Indonesian security forces in reporting these facts, West Papua Media has made a difficult decision to not identify either the church sources, nor their denomination.

West Papua Media

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