By Victor Mambor
JAYAPURA (The Jakarta Post/RNZ Pacific/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): A New Zealand employee of gold and copper mining company PT Freeport Indonesia was shot dead on Monday by gunmen in Timika, the capital city of Mimika regency in Papua.
The employee, identified as 57-year-old Graeme Thomas Wall, reports RNZ Pacific, was engaged in construction work with colleagues on the company site in Kuala Kencana district when the shooting took place on Monday afternoon. Freeport Indonesia spokesperson Riza Pratama said.
“The shooting happened on Monday, March 30, at around 2 pm local time. We express our deep condolences for one of our workers who was killed in the shooting at the office complex of Freeport Indonesia,” said Freeport Indonesia spokesperson Riza Pratama.
Two of Weal’s colleagues, identified as Jibril Wahar and Yosephine, were admitted to Tembagapura Hospital with serious injuries, Riza said. Four other people sustained minor injuries and were treated in the office.
Local authorities and Freeport security officers have secured the location and evacuated all workers and residents near the vicinity following the attack.
Freeport management has issued an incident notification alert asking workers to postpone all activities and find shelter following the shooting.
“We will provide further information when there are reports of new developments from this incident,” Riza said.
Papua Police chief Paulus Waterpauw alleged that the perpetrators who launched the attack were under the command of Joni Botak, the leader of an armed group operating in the Timika area, and who is also on the police’s most-wanted list.
“The group is now being hunted by our joint team,” Waterpauw said.
The pro-independence group West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), however, claimed responsibility for the shooting.
“Our battlefield is at the Freeport and Grassberg mining sites. Kuala Kencana is also a war zone. We will not stop until Freeport closes down, so they had better close at once,” TPNPB Timika operational commander Hengky Wamang said.
Papuan struggle for independence
Papua has been in a struggle for independence for years and armed groups, which authorities say operate in several regencies in the province, are reported to have been behind numerous violent incidents in the region.
RNZ Pacific reports that the attack comes in the same regency where the West Papua Liberation Army had claimed responsibility for recent deadly attacks on police and military connected to the lucrative mine operations.
The Liberation Army, a disparate force of guerilla fighters, had declared war on the Indonesian state, with whose security forces hostilities have escalated since late 2018 in Papua’s central highlands region.
Indonesia’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Tantowi Yahya, has condemned the shooting attack.
“The armed criminal group in Papua always claims they will only attack security forces. The fact shows that the majority of their victims are civilians,” he said.
“The shooting in Kuala Kencana will only add the burdens of the people and the security apparatus in Papua, who are now working hard in containing the Covid-19 epidemic.
“It demonstrates that the armed criminal group never cares about the impact of their actions to the Papuans.
“Our deepest condolences to the family of the victims. We stand ready to help when needed.”
Wenda warns ‘caution’
However, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the non-military arm of the Papuan independence movement, warned against blaming the Liberation Army, who Indonesian authorities often refer to as an armed criminal group.
“The ULMWP urges the international media to treat claims about the shooting with extreme caution,” movement chairman Benny Wenda said.
“There is a long history of the Indonesian military carrying out killings, posing as West Papuans, in order to justify further militarisation, security deals and crackdowns.”
This article is drawn from a Jakarta Post correspondent in Jayapura’s reports and the Pacific Media Centre’s partnership with RNZ Pacific.