A clash between the Indonesian Military (TNI) in cooperation with the National Police and the Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), a Papuan independence group, resulted in at least one fatality in Tembagapura district, Mimika regency in Papua on Wednesday, near the copper mine operated by Freeport.
The TNI said it could not confirm whether the victim was a civilian or a member of the TPN-OPM, which is referred to as an armed separatist criminal group by the TNI. The TPN-OPM claimed the fatality was a civilian.
Both the TNI and TPN-OPM confirmed the identity of the dead man as Timotius Umabak.
The TNI said the clash left two others injured, the victims were identified as Ruben Kupugau, in his 30s, and Kapin Wamang, a 15-year-old boy. Once again the TNI could not confirm whether the two injured were civilians or TPN-OPM members.
Cendrawasih Military Command spokesman Col. M. Aidi said on Wednesday that a shootout happened at 10:15 a.m. local time during a hunt for the armed group in the village of Opitawak.
“The clash lasted for 30 minutes and when the shootout ended, our soldiers entered the village and found one dead and two injured,” Aidi said.
“This group usually uses civilians as shields,” Aidi said. The military said they seized an F-16 rifle in the village.
The hunt was a follow up to an earlier clash on Sunday, in which one TNI soldier, Private First Class Vicky Irad Uba Rumpaidus, was killed. Before the incident, the group allegedly set houses, a hospital and a school building on fire.
The group had reportedly taken control of several villages in Tembagapura district, namely Utikini, Longsoran, Kimbeli, Banti 1, Banti 2 and Opitawak. On Wednesday, the TNI declared they had retaken all six villages.
TPN-OPM spokesperson Hendrik Wanmang told The Jakarta Post via phone on Wednesday afternoon that there was no shootout with the group in Opitawak on Wednesday morning. “The [Indonesian Military] shot the villagers,” he claimed.
Earlier, at about 7:30 a.m. Jakarta time, or 9:30 Papua time, Wanmang said, the TPN-OPM had gathered all villagers in Opitawak for their own protection. He claimed the TPN-OPM fighters had retreated and left the village to avoid civilians being mistaken for armed fighters.
“There were women and children among the 1,000. We told them if the Indonesian Military came, not to run, show yourselves with your hands up,” Wanmang told the Post in Jakarta on Wednesday morning.
The TPN-OPM also denied accusations that it had set locals’ houses on fire, saying it was the TNI that launched mortars on people’s houses. The TNI’s Aidi denied that the soldiers carried mortars or rockets.
“We have 300 civilian witnesses. Ask them, did we use mortars or rockets?” Aidi said. “They were the ones who set the houses on fire before running into the woods,” Aidi went on.
Aidi said that on Tuesday soldiers had found a crying baby in one village, abandoned in a honai, a traditional Papuan house. “We gave the baby to the village head,” he said.
Wanmang of the TPN-OPM said his group had received information from villagers that besides Timotius, a woman, identified as Nataro Omaleng, and a child, named Aprion, also died in Wednesday’s clash.