About 31 workers and one soldier are dead after an armed group attacked the Trans-Papua highway, which is under construction. The project is a priority for the Widodo administration. Since its annexation to Indonesia in 1969, the province has been the scene of an ongoing insurrection by pro-independence forces.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian Minister for Housing and Public Works Basuki Hadimuljono has ordered a temporary halt to major construction projects in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province.
The government's decision comes after an armed rebel group killed 31 workers and a soldier in Nduga, a district located in the centre of the country’s largest province. Another soldier was also seriously wounded in the attack, which took place between last Sunday and Monday.
About 150 soldiers are tracking those who perpetrated the massacre. The workers were employed at Istaka Karya, a state-owned contractor.
In Nduga, teams of workers are building bridges and roads, as part of government efforts to upgrade infrastructure in the remote province. One of them is the Trans-Papua highway, a priority project for the administration of President Joko Widodo.
According to the first indications, the armed group attacked building sites on Saturday where the victims worked on two bridges across the Aorak and Yigi rivers, in Yigi territory. The next day, militants shot dead 24 workers. Seven others, who tried to flee, were recaptured, and had their throats slit.
In the confusion, four workers managed to save themselves. One of the survivors, Aldi Aritonang, told investigators that during the attack on Saturday, the rebels stopped their action against the construction sites to mark "National Day", the day in 1961 when Papua declared its independence.
On Monday, police and soldiers arrived at the scene of the murders but came under rebel fire. One soldier was killed and another was wounded.
Since Indonesia annexed the province in 1969, pro-independence armed groups such as the Free Papua Movement (OPM) have led an low-level insurrection.
Last April, Widodo was the first Indonesian president to visit the remote territory. According to local sources, the president's trip changed the mind of many separatists, who want to abandon the struggle convinced that Widodo is genuinely interested in the fate of the province.
Nevertheless, local tribal leaders have repeatedly filed complaints against the Indonesian government over the intensive exploitation of the province’s natural resources.