Arrest of TPNPB member in Paniai fuels tensions between joint security forces and TPNPB

The arrest of Mr Peni Pekei, also known as Petrus Pekei, by the Cartenz Peace Operation Task Force and the Dogiyai Police on 17 May 2024, has sparked controversy in Paniai, Papua Tengah Province. The police allege that Mr Pekei holds the position of Operations Commander for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in the Paniai Regency. According to police investigators, Mr Pekei is responsible for extortion, threats, violent theft, and illegal possession of a firearm during an incident in the Yatamo District in January 2015. Additionally, authorities state Pekei has been on the wanted list since 11 November 2016.

TPNPB claims Peni Pekei was never involved in violence

Mr Otto Jimmi Magai Yogi, head of the TPNPB in the Dokoge-Paniai era, denies all charges against Mr Pekei. He stressed that Mr Pekei has never been involved in any violence. In a video message sent to media outlets on 20 May 2024, Mr Yogi argues the accusations pertain to himself and other TPNPB commanders, namely Mr Damianus Magai Yogi, and Mr Aloysius Kayame. However, Mr Jimmi Yogi, underlined that he and the others were already prosecuted. All have allegedly served sentences between 2016 and August 2017 at the Papua Regional Police and Nabire Penitentiary. 

“We, including myself, Damianus Magai Yogi and Aloysius Kayame, were arrested by the Papua Regional Police in Jayapura. We served sentences in both the regional police and the Nabire District Court. The firearm was also returned to the authorities through the Paniai Regional Police.” Yogi also denied Pekei’s involvement in the shooting of a military district chief (Danramil). He challenged the claim that Mr Pekei was on a wanted list (DPO) before his arrest. “We have never seen any official document declaring Peni Pekei a wanted man,” Yogi stated. “His inclusion on the DPO list only appeared after his arrest.”

Mr Yogi urged the police to release Mr Pekei immediately, emphasizing his innocence in all accusations and Mr Pekei’s role in maintaining peace in the Paniai region. He accused the police of fabricating charges to fuel current tensions in Paniai, which has been hardly affected by incidents of armed violence in the past years

According to Commissioner Faizal Ramadhani, head of operations of the Cartenz Peace Task Force, the arrest was based on a police report filed on 1 February 2015 (LP/01/K/II/2015/PAPUA/RES PANIAI) and a warrant issued on 11 November 2016 (DPO/36/XI/2016/DITRESKRIMUM). Commissioner Bayu Suseno, Head of Public Relations for the Cartenz Peace Task Force, elaborated that Peni Pekei holds a significant position as a commander within the TPNPB in the Paniai Regency.

Mr Pekei is being detained at the Nabire District Police headquarters for further investigation into his alleged involvement with the TPNPB.