Report – By Farouk Arnaz in Jayapura
A military helicopter that was on its way to evacuate the remains of the eight soldiers who were shot dead in the Indonesian region of West Papua’s Puncak Jaya district was yesterday forced to return back to its base after an armed group attacked them in the air.
The suspected pro-independence militants attacked the helicopter at 8.25 am, just 10 minutes after the aircraft left its base in Mulia to travel to Sinak to pick up the bodies.
Antaranews.com said that three soldiers — identified as First Lieut. Amang, Maj. Asep and Capt. Tata — were injured in the attack and were taken to a hospital in Mulia.
Julian Aldrin Pasha, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s spokesman, told Antaranews.com on Thursday that the president would discuss the latest incidents in Papua at a limited cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon.
“I have reported to the President and he has ordered to chase and arrest the attackers,” said Indonesian military chief Admiral Agus Suhartono, as quoted by Antaranews.com in a press conference in Malang, East Java on Thursday night.
Agus said that he had lost eight of his best soldiers in the attack.
“The soldiers are ready and will keep on chasing [the perpetrators] in coordination with the police,” Agus said.
Meanwhile, the National Police on Friday said they had made no plans to send reinforcements to Papua.
“In principle, we are ready but there is yet no order to reinforce personnel coming from the assistant for operation,” said Insp. Gen. Unggung Cahyono, who heads the National Police mobile brigade (Brimob) unit.
Insp. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, the National Police assistant for operations, said the area already had sufficient security personnel to look after the area, adding that there was already one Brimob unit working in the district.
“There is already one company of men there, or about 100-150 personnel,” Badrodin said.
“They [Brimob unit] are already there as part of the security framework for the Papua regional elections and now they are assisting in hunting down the assailants.”
Eight soldiers were shot dead and two more were wounded in two separate incidents among the mountains of the Puncak Jaya district, a known hideout for Papuan rebels where attacks on police and soldiers are common.
Government minister Djoko Suyanto late on Thursday said the assailants were members of both the Goliat Tabuni and Murib groups, which he accused of targeting police and military officers in the past.
Shot on patrol
In the day’s violence, the soldiers were shot while on patrol and didn’t have a chance to shoot back, said Djoko, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
“It was a total ambush,” he said. “[This] was not a gun battle where both sides fired shots.”
Djoko ordered the Papua Police and the Cendrawasih Military Command to mobilise troops to capture those responsible. He said the recent attacks could disrupt efforts to settle ongoing tensions in Papua, the site of an ongoing campaign for autonomy.
In the day’s first attack, an armed group shot at the Tingginambut military post in Puncak Jaya, killing one solider and wounding another, said Lieut. Col. Jansen Simanjuntak, a Papua province military spokesman.
He said that First Private Wahyu Wibowo died instantly when he was shot in the chest, while First Lt. Reza was wounded.
An hour later, a group of soldiers traveling from Sinak in Puncak Jaya to the Ilaga Air Base 3 km away were attacked by an armed group, killing four officers.
The four soldiers killed were identified as First Sergeant M. Udin, First Sergeant Frans, First Sergeant Ramadhan and First Private Mustofa.
Finally, three soldiers — identified as Private Edi, Private Jojo and Private Idris — were killed when they were attacked elsewhere in Puncak Jaya district.
Clashes erupt in West Papua where poorly-armed pro-independence militants such as the Free Papua Movement (OPM) have for decades fought a low-level insurgency on behalf of the mostly ethnic Melanesian population.
Jakarta keeps a tight grip on the resource-rich region with a heavy police and military presence and foreign journalists are banned from reporting out of the area.