Senseless: Relatives attend the funeral of First Sgt. Muhammad Udin, one of the eight soldiers killed in last week’s ambush by unknown assailants in Papua, at a public cemetery in Sidoarjo, East Java, on Monday. (Antara/Dwi Agus Setiawan)
The deaths of eight soldiers, who were shot by unidentified perpetrators in Papua last week, may have been due to negligence on the part of the local military command in the area.
Speaking on Monday before the House of Representatives’ Commission I on defense, Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Adm. Agus Suhartono told of a glaring omission and violations of procedures that led to the shooting incidents.
A chronology given by Agus of the event, which occurred on Feb. 21, reflected the TNI’s lack of vigilance in a tense area, where multiple attacks had earlier targeted members of the security forces.
Agus told Commission I lawmakers that the first attack took place at 9:30 a.m. local time (7:30 a.m.
Jakarta time), when soldiers at a guard post in Tingginambut district were ambushed after a visit by Wendi Tabuni, a local who was known to be a friend of the TNI, although, according to Agus, he was also known as a friend of “the other group”, the Free Papua Movement (OPM).
“After chatting to some of our on-duty personnel for around 30 minutes, Wendi Tabuni left the post and immediately vanished. His departure was quickly followed by shooting from all directions, believed to have been carried out by a group of 50 or so men led by Goliat Tabuni,” Agus said, referring to the leader of OPM’s armed wing in the province.
The first ambush claimed the life of First Pvt. Wahyu Prabowo.
The second attack, Agus said, took place at 10:30 a.m. local time against seven soldiers of an 11-man platoon, which was on its way to the Sinak airstrip to pick up military communications devices. The 11 soldiers were not wearing military fatigues and were unarmed.
“These soldiers were off duty, so they went out without their uniforms and weapons. They were then stopped by a group, likely led by Murib, who has around 20 followers,” Agus said, referring to another separatist leader.
Agus added that the second attack claimed the lives of seven soldiers, comprising First Sgt. Muhammad Udin and Frans from the Puncak Military District Command (Kodim); and First Sgt. Ramadhan, first privates Mustofa, Edi, and Idris and Second Pvt. Jojo from the Argaviratama 753rd Infantry Battalion.
Also killed in the ambush were four locals identified as Yulianus, Palimbong, Yohanes Lallo and Markus Kevin Rendenan.
Agus rejected a suggestion that the TNI should be held accountable for the deaths of the soldiers.
He insisted that no procedures were breached during the incidents.
“We have never been suspicious of the locals who are close to us, including Wendi Tabuni. It’s our way of reaching out to the local community and reassuring them that we have come to Papua to help,” he said.
In order to build a good rapport with locals, off-duty soldiers were encouraged to change out of their uniforms and conceal their weapons.
“We don’t want to scare people off by carrying weapons all the time. We want to be their friends,” he said.
Agus said that in an effort to pool resources in the fight against separatist groups in Papua, a crisis center has been set up to collect information about the current situation in the province.
National Intelligence Agency (BIN) head Marciano Norman said that the crisis center would also be used to coordinate all members of the intelligence services in the province.
“We hope the center will provide the same information to all the leaders in Papua,” Marciano said.
Deputy House Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso has called on the government to deploy more security personnel to Papua after the incidents.
The House and the government are expected to discuss the latest situation in Papua in a coordination meeting next week.
“We want the government to brief us about its efforts to bring peace to Papua and whether it has lost control of the situation,” he said.
In Papua, a coalition of human rights groups has urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths of the eight soldiers.
The coalition said the presence of Komnas HAM could prevent human rights violations that tended to occur during the TNI’s hunt for separatists following such shooting incidents.
“We encourage law enforcers to be professional in carrying out their tasks. They must ensure that their attempts to find the perpetrators do not turn into seeking revenge against all Papuans,” Fery Marisan from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said in Jayapura on Monday.