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Indonesia nabs policemen for selling guns to Papuan rebels

Head of Catholic rights group claims such arms sales are rife in police and military circles

Indonesia nabs policemen for selling guns to Papuan rebels

Papuan rebels pose for a photograph at an undisclosed location in this file image. The head of a Catholic rights group in Papua has called on police and the military to root out rogue personnel selling arms to separatist groups. (Photo from Facebook of West Papua National Liberation Army)

The head of a prominent Catholic rights advocacy group in Papua has told police and the military to put their own houses in order after the arrest of two policemen accused of selling arms to separatist rebels.

The two officers from Maluku province were arrested on Feb. 20 after being accused of selling weapons and ammunition to the West Papua National Liberation Army, an armed group responsible for numerous attacks against the Indonesian police and military. 

Ferdy Sambo, head of the national police's professional and security division, said on Feb. 22 that the officers were in custody and he had assigned a special team to investigate the case.

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Yuliana Langowuyo, executive director of the Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) group in Papua, said the revelation that it was police selling arms was not an isolated case and that it was, in fact, an “old practice.”

She said a bizarre situation exists where the government is trying to eliminate pro-independence groups, while those tasked with doing so are providing them with the means to carry out their insurgency.

Such elements need to be rooted out as it is civilians who ultimately suffer the most, she said.

“Indonesia is not a country where you are free to buy and sell weapons. Weapons can only be owned by the military. If lots of weapons can be owned by non-military people, then this needs to be examined closely," she told UCA News.

She pointed to a similar case in October 2020 involving a policeman and several former soldiers in the town of in Nabire in Papua.

In February last year, three soldiers were jailed for supplying rebels with weapons.

Langowuyo said these cases were likely the tip of the iceberg and probably only made it to trial after the incidents became public, suggesting that such practices were covered up.

"The spirit of upholding justice must be greater than the spirit of protecting institutions,” she said.

Theo Hesegem, chairman of the Central Mountains Law Enforcement and Human Rights Advocacy Network based in Wamena, Jayawijaya district, said the frequency of such incidents makes it look as though members of the security forces are using the conflict in Papua to line their own pockets.

"There is the impression that the conflict in Papua is deliberately being prolonged so that the arms business can continue," he told UCA News.

Meanwhile, Papua police chief Paulus Waterpaw denied such practices were endemic in the police and the military, telling reporters in Jayapura on Feb. 22 that it was likely down to a few individuals.

He said his force was determined to identify those involved and promised to take firm action against them. "Sooner or later, we will unmask them all," he said.

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