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Child dies, another hurt as Indonesian forces, Papua rebels clash

Shot children were siblings taking cover inside their house after they heard gunfire
The funeral of 12-year-old Ronaldo Duwitau was held on April 9, a day after he was killed in a gunfight between the Indonesian military and Papuan pro-independence groups.

The funeral of 12-year-old Ronaldo Duwitau was held on April 9, a day after he was killed in a gunfight between the Indonesian military and Papuan pro-independence groups. (Photo supplied)

Published: April 11, 2024 05:29 AM GMT
Updated: April 11, 2024 09:13 AM GMT

A 12-year-old boy was killed, and his six-year-old sister seriously injured in a gunfight between Indonesian security forces and an armed rebel group in Christian-majority Papua province, drawing strong condemnations and demands for a thorough probe by rights groups.

Nepina Duwitau was reportedly in a coma and being treated at a hospital in Nabire while her brother, Ronaldo, was buried on April 9, a day after being shot in a residential area in Sugapa, Intan Jaya Regency, Central Papua Province.

Both the Cartenz Peace Operations Task Force, which oversees security in Papua, and the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) denied involvement in shooting at the children.

In a statement, the task force’s spokesman Bayu Suseno, said the incident took place after they arrested Bui Wonda, a member of the TPN-PB.

The armed criminal group — as the military calls the TPN-PB — attempted to free Wonda by attacking and heavily damaging a military post near the Papua Bank in Sugapa.

The two children were shot as a result of the attack, Suseno claimed.

However, TPN-PB spokesman Sebby Sambom told BBC Indonesia that they did not direct fire at civilians, accusing officers from the Cartenz Peace Task Force of injuring the two children.

“TPN-PB cannot possibly shoot residents. TPN-PB will protect Papuans,” he claimed.

Theo Hesegem who heads the Advocacy Network for Law Enforcement and Human Rights in Papua said that mutual accusations between the security forces and the TPN-PB were “an old pattern when civilians are targeted.”

“This is part of an effort to save their image in the eyes of the public,” he told UCA News on April 10.

Hesegem said the incident was all the more tragic as the children were inside their house.

“They were taking cover when they heard gunfire. Unfortunately, they became targets,” he said.

“The children shot were a pair of siblings… Time and time again, Indonesia has shown they will target children, the new generation of West Papuans,” said the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), an umbrella organization of three main pro-independence movements.

Hesegem said the incident exposes the poor handling of the situation in Papua, where security forces occupy command posts in the middle of settlements.

He said this was “very dangerous” especially when there is an ongoing armed conflict with the TPN-PB.

"They should place the command posts in locations far away” from their current locations near residential areas, including Sugapa, to avoid a repeat of similar incidents, said Hesegem.

Suseno, the task force’s spokesman, claimed most of their posts were near civilian settlements because “the rebels themselves also targeted civilians, both migrants and native Papuans.”

The Indonesian government continues to deploy troops in Papua citing violence by the TPN-PB.

The Democratic Alliance for Papua reported the presence of some 10,250 army and 1,416 police personnel from outside the region at the end of 2023.

There were 49 incidents of violence against civilians, including shootings, abuse, arbitrary arrests, intimidation and torture, which left 41 dead and 67 injured in 2023, according to a report by the Jakarta-based Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence,

Hesegem said the Indonesian government, including the president, must see this as a serious problem.

“I would be surprised if the government doesn’t do anything to see that innocent children are being targeted,” he said.

Hesegem demanded an independent investigation to determine who shot the siblings.

ULMWP President Benny Wenda said in an April 9 statement: “This should be a lesson to the world — Indonesia will not stop until they are forced to by international pressure. Our supporters around the world must intensify their efforts for a UN visit… [which] will expose Indonesia’s crimes to the world.”

Sambom, the TPN-PB spokesman also called for immediate peace talks facilitated by the United Nations. “If Indonesia allows this to continue, then civilians will continue to be victims,” he said.

Catholic Church leaders have repeatedly called on the Indonesian government to ensure a safe and dignified existence for people in the conflict-torn Christian-majority region.

The resource-rich region in the western half of New Guinea island has witnessed deadly conflicts since the 1960s after Indonesia annexed the territory following the end of Dutch colonial rule.

A UN-sponsored referendum that followed was allegedly rigged to keep Papua a part of Indonesia. The consequent armed insurgency for independence and the military crackdown has left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced over the past decades.

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