Indonesia intensifies security operations in West Papua – Raids come with killings, torture, and burning of houses

Indonesian security forces have intensified operations in various conflict areas in West Papua. According to information received, security force members raided villages and set residential houses on fire. The raids reportedly occurred in the conflict hotspots in West Papua, predominantly in the regencies, Puncak, Nduga, and Intan Jaya, but also in less conflict-affected places like the districts Elilim and Apahapsili in the Yalimo Regency on 1 and 2 April 2023 (see photo on top, source: WPCC). Indigenous Papuans, including women and children, were arrested and tortured. Observers predicted an aggravation of the conflict weeks ago after the Indonesian military deployed more than 2,000 additional personnel to West Papua throughout March 2023. Meanwhile, the Indonesian chief of armed forces, General Laksamana Yudo Margono, announced that the mode of operations against the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) was switched from a “soft approach” to “ground combat operations” after an unknown number of military members were killed in a firefight with TPNPB members in Nduga on 15 April 2023.

Meanwhile, the increased security force presence comes with government-driven socialisation programmes, where military and police members directly interact with local communities. They participate in collective work, visit schools, and take over or accompany essential healthcare services (see photos below, source: independent HRDs). For decades, many indigenous Papuans have been traumatized due to the history of violent military operations in West Papua. They fear becoming victims of arbitrary arrest, torture, killings, or enforced disappearance. The military presence in schools, health facilities, and churches limits indigenous Papuans from accessing essential public services.

Maybrat Regency, Papua Barat Province

In the regency of Maybrat, indigenous Papuans carried out a peaceful protest, demanding the withdrawal of military personnel from the immediate vicinity of their villages on 17 April 2923 (see photos on top below, source: WPCC). HRM received a public statement issued by a civil society coalition Maybrat according to which the villagers expressed their disagreement with the presence of security force members in the villages. They demanded a withdrawal of security force personnel from villages in Maybrat. The people in Maybrat no longer feel safe in their villages and are limited to following their indigenous lifestyle. Armed military members are present in the districts of Aifat Selatan and Aifat Timur during church services and seize gardening tools and hunting weapons. Military members have occupied an elementary school and a Catholic church in the Faan Kahrio village, Aifat Timur Tengah District (see photos below, source: WPCC).

The local government collaborates with security forces to relocate IDPs from Maybrat to their villages. Most IDPs refuse to return to their homes while security force operations and additional security personnel deployments in Maybrat continue. The deployments are part of the “Petik Manisinam Operation,” launched in March 2023. The purpose of the operation is the “protection of people in Maybrat from armed criminal groups” through the deployment of additional security forces and the establishment of more security posts. The government promotes a narrative according to which people in Maybrat fled their villages because they feared the TPNPB. According to the Papuan media platform Jubi, the local government recently relocated 26 IDPs to the villages Kamat and Ayata. Security forces accompanied the IDPs to the village and built a security post in the Ayata Village.

According to the information received, additional 91 security force members were deployed to the villages Konja, Bori Raya, and Kookas, Aifat District, on 13 April 2023 (see photos below, source: independent HRDs).

Intan Jaya Regency, Papua Tengah Province

A widespread security operation was reportedly launched in Intan Jaya on 11 April 2023 in the districts Sugapa, Hitadipa and Agisiga (see map and photos below, source: independent HRDs). Indonesian military reportedly raided the villages Eknemba,  Munumai, Danggoa, Mbamogo, Ndugusiga, Titigi, and Tousiga. Local observers claim that security forces set at least 29 residential houses and a church in the villages of Munimai and Danggoa on fire. The security force members allegedly executed four indigenous Papuans during the raids. Military spokespersons have denied these allegations, saying the TPNPB members were responsible for destroying the residential houses.

According to information received, security force members burnt ten houses to the ground and killed four people during the raid in the Munumai Village, Agisiga District. They reportedly executed Pastor Ebi Bagau and Mr Abiani Weya inside the KINGMI Eklesia Church and disappeared the bodies. Two more Pastors, Rev Habel Bagau and Rev Paulus Bagau, were also killed by security force members in the Munumai Village. Additionally, two indigenous women were allegedly tortured during the raid.

Extra-judicial executions of villagers also accompanied the raids in other villages. On 13 April 2023, Mrs Wanomina Weya’s body was found near her burnt house in Danggoa Village, Agisiga District. She was allegedly executed during the raid on 11 April.  

Following the raids, indigenous Papuans from the affected villages fled toward the Hitadipa District and neighbouring villages, which they considered safe. Others reportedly sought shelter in the surrounding forest. Further displacements were reported from the villages Mamba, Jenetapa, Bamba, and Janamba because people feared further security force raids. In total, the internal displacements have reportedly affected nineteen church congregations.

The Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua) calls for the immediate formation of a Refugee Protection Team to safeguard conflict-affected communities in Intan Jaya. LBH Papua urged the Indonesian Government to take appropriate action without harming the civilians and avoid further internal displacements.  

The Head of Information of Kodam XVII/Cenderawasih, Colonel Herman Taryaman, confirmed that the 305/Tengkorak Infantry Battalion Task Force was stationed in Intan Jaya Regency to protect the community from the TPNPB and provided logistical assistance in the form of food to the residents of Mbamogo and Titigi. He denied the allegations that TNI troops raided indigenous settlements and burned houses to the ground. According to Taryaman, the arson of residential houses was committed by TPNPB members.

Cases Agisiga:

Puncak Regency, Papua Tengah Province

Security force members raided villages in the Oneri District, Puncak Regency, from late March to early April. Security force members reportedly burnt several residential houses, torturing and arresting indigenous villagers (see photos below, source: WPCC). Local churches are still verifying the identities and number of arrestees. Most of the victims affected by these incidents were residents of the GKII church. The Coordinator of the Indonesian Gospel Church (GKII), Mr Hans Wakerkwa, stated that GKII is still collecting data on the material losses during the raids. The secretary of GKII, Mr Yotinus Kulua, called upon the security forces to refrain from arbitrarily arresting and torturing civilians so that people in conflict areas could celebrate Easter peacefully.

The armed conflict in Puncak had increased throughout March 2023. The clashes occurred in response to a security raid in the village of Pamebut, Yugumuak District, on 3 March 2023. According to information received, joint police and military members indiscriminately opened fire at villagers, leaving eight persons injured with bullets. An indigenous woman named Mrs, Tarina Murib was reportedly killed during the incident. On 14 April 2023, TPNPB members released shots at an aircraft owned by the aviation Asian One in the Beoga District. The TPNPB claimed that the aeroplane had loaded military logistics and supplies. The police reportedly arrested seven suspects shortly after the shooting.

Puncak Jaya Regency, Papua Tengah Province

In early April 20230, joint security forces conducted raids in the Ilu District and other areas. HRD did not receive reports of ill-treatment or arbitrary arrest during the raid. The security force members seized traditional weapons and gardening tools. People in the area were told not to bring machetes, knives, or bows and arrows with them, as these tools would be taken away from them (see videos below, source: independent HRDs). Gardening tools are essential for Papuans living in the central highlands. Their livelihood depends on gardening and pig domestication. The bow and arrow are hunting weapons but also have an important cultural value in Papuan indigenous societies.

Nduga, Papua Pegunungan Province

Human rights defenders observed increased armed contacts and security raids throughout April 2023. According to the national police chief, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, 965 security personnel have been deployed to Nduga to free Captain Mark Mehrtens, a pilot from New Zealand whom TPNPB members had captured in early February 2023. Armed clashes in Nduga predominantly occurred in the districts Yal and Mugi throughout the first half of April’23. Security force members arrested one TPNPB associate, seizing automatic weapons and ammunition (see photos below, source: local informant).

According to TPNPB sources, 13 Indonesian military members were killed during a firefight in Mugi on 15 April 2023. The resistance fighters claim they seized all weapons. As of now, the military spokespersons have confirmed the death of one soldier only. However, there were indications that the number of combatants killed was higher. The Indonesian chief of armed forces, general Laksamana Yudo Margono, left for Timika shortly after the incident, allegedly to assess the current security approach in West Papua. He announced in response to the incident that the operational mode of troops in West Papua would be switched from a “soft approach” to “ground combat operations”. A military spokesperson announced they would increase security presence in the Mugi District.     

Military members reportedly opened fire at a group of indigenous Papuans in the bordering area between the regencies  Lanny Jaya and Nduga on 6 April 2023. A bullet injured one indigenous 16-year-old girl. The military members arrested and tortured four Papuan high school students. One of them allegedly died shortly after the torture.