The Papuan villagers feel threatened by the authorities, who want to allow gold mining in the area. Activists accuse a soldier of the death of the Protestant clergyman. Two Catholic catechists were also killed in October. The local community wants the military to leave.
Jayapura (AsiaNews) – About 1,100 residents of Hitadipa, a village in Indonesia’s Papua province, have fled into the forests, following the killing of a Protestant clergyman, Rev Jeremiah Zanambani, this according to Haris Azhar, a member of the Papua Humanitarian Team.
Speaking at a press conference on the weekend in Jayapura, the provincial capital, Azhar said that locals wonder what can happen to them if such a respected clergyman can be killed with impunity.
On 19 September, Rev Zanambani’s wife found him dead, in a pool of blood, lying face down in a pen for pigs, with several stab wounds and his left arm almost severed.
According to the Papua Humanitarian Team, a soldier who was hosted by the pastor's family and community was responsible for the murder.
For Colonel IGN Suriastawa, the local military commander, the group’s accusation is "total fabrication". From the beginning, the Indonesian military has blamed Papuan separatists for Zanambani’s death.
By contrast, the people of Hitadipa feel threatened by government plans to allow gold mining in Intan Jaya regency, and they are in urgent need of help. "A woman who took refuge in the forest died, most likely of starvation,” Azhar said.
Since August protests by student and indigenous groups, including the Moni, have intensified. Rev Zanambani was an ethnic Moni.
The Wabu mining block holds an estimated US$ 15.4 billion in gold, CNBC Indonesia reports. It is operated by the state-owned PT Aneka Tambang (Antam) company.
Church groups and local activists are wondering if the mining plans in the area are linked to the growing presence of the military and the rising number of attacks on civilians, like the one against Rev Zanambani.
In fact, the clergyman’s murder is not an isolated case. In October, the military killed two local civilians after accusing them of being separatist rebels, a version of events rejected by the local Catholic Church, according to whom the two men were ordinary catechists.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Usman Hamid, an expert at Amnesty International Indonesia, explained that the military often deliberately create conditions that force people to leave certain areas, “to ensure smooth mining operations”.
Despite the residents' demands that the government stop sending troops to Papua, Political, Legal and Human Rights Minister Mahfud claimed that Papuans themselves have asked for protection.
According to police, "criminal armed groups" (i.e. Papuan separatists) have become increasingly bold in their attacks. On 9 October, a government team investigating the death of Pastor Zanambani was shot at in Intan Jaya.
The West Papuan National Liberation Army, which claimed responsibility for the shooting, said that investigations by Indonesian authorities are meant to “scapegoat” Papuan nationalists.
Rev Dora Balubun of the Indonesian Evangelical Christian Church (FKII), to which Rev Zanambani belonged, shares Hitadipa residents’ hope that the soldiers will leave the area.
Hitadipa is considered a sacred land, part of a religious mission, she said. “The area was peaceful until the military came,” Rev Balubun said.