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Papua violence escalates

Eight soldiers, four civilians killed

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

February 22, 2013

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At least 12 people were killed on Thursday after two seperate attacks on military personnel in Indonesia's restive Papua province. 

Approximately 20 men armed with guns and machetes attacked a group of 10 soldiers walking to Sinak Ilaga Airport in Papua's Puncak district. Seven soldiers and four construction workers were killed.

An hour earlier a soldier was killed when gunmen stormed an army post in Tingginambut, in Puncak Jaya district.

Following the attacks, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed both the military and police to pursue the gunmen and bring them to justice. 

But an activist priest serving in the province has warned of civilian unease over the security officers' zeal as they pursue the suspects.

“Papuans get worried after hearing such remarks,” said Father Johanes Djonga, who received the 2009 Yap Thiam Hien Award. “Based on my experience, the instruction becomes a reason for the military and police to sweep people’s houses.”

People are afraid of doing routine activities because security officers are on guard and the situation remains tense, Fr Djonga said.

He blames the outbreak of violence on the government, which has failed to adopt an effective policy for the problems faced by Papuans.

“The recent shootings are only an indication of the frustration held by groups whose voices have not been heard for so long. There are roots for all of these, such as injustice, poverty and also human rights abuse,” he said.

Instead of making those issues a priority, he said, the government represses Papuans with troops.

He said the much discussed Jakarta-Papua dialogue should be started immediately.

“I am sure separatist groups will find a peaceful solution as long as their voices are heard,” he said.

On Friday, gunmen shot at a military helicopter carrying the bodies of seven soldiers who died in the attack in Puncak district. All three crew members were injured. 

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