Villagers are seen at St. Michael Church's compound in Bilogai in Papua on Feb. 11. (Photo supplied)
More than 5,000 people including 3,000 Catholics have fled their homes in Indonesia’s Papua region following clashes between security forces and a separatist group, according to a church official.
The violence flared in Bilogai, Intan Jaya district, between security forces and members of the Papua Independence Organization (OPM) on Feb. 10 and was still ongoing, Father Marthen Kuayo, apostolic administrator of Timika Diocese, said on Feb. 15.
It began after a villager suspected of being an informer was shot and wounded by the rebels, he said. Two days later, a soldier was also shot and wounded, he said.
So far, they are the only two reported casualties in the violence.
Of those who fled their homes, at least 600 have sought refuge in the compound of St. Michael’s Church in Bilogai, the priest said.
“That number will likely increase in the next few days because the violence is continuing,” Father Kuayo told UCA News.
He said most of the others forced to leave their homes in three villages had fled to nearby districts. “We are trying to help those at the church with food and shelter as best we can.”
However, he said he was not sure how long the aid could last. “We hope both sides can show restraint so that peace can prevail and no harm comes to local people.”
One 32-year-old villager said he and his friends fled to the church on Feb. 11. “We are afraid to return home. Almost the whole village fled,” he told UCA News.
Local police said the rebels were terrorizing local people.
"They are living in fear of reprisals from the OPM," Papua police spokesperson Ahmad Kamal told reporters, adding local authorities were also trying to help people displaced by the violence.