A Papuan resident whom authorities claimed was a member of a local armed criminal group was shot dead during a joint police-military operation in Jalae village in Intan Jaya regency, Papua, on Monday.
The Timika Diocese, however, identified the victim as Rufinus Tigau, a catechist who had served the Parish of Saint Michael Bilogai since 2015.
Prior to his death, Rufinus assisted the pastor at the Jalae Parish as the latter had been struggling to communicate with the locals, according to the diocese.
“Allegations of Rafinus’ involvement in a separatist movement or an armed criminal group are untrue,” said Marthen Kuayo, the administrator of the diocese, in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The military's Joint Defense Area Command III (Kogabwilhan III) denied the claim that Rufinus was a church figure, insisting that he had been a member of a local armed criminal group.
Kogabwilhan III spokesperson Col. Czi IGN Suriastawa alleged that credible intelligence had previously established Rufinus as an active participant of violent acts carried out by an armed criminal group over the last year and a half.
“The target had been on the military’s radar for a while, based on accurate information that he was actively involved in an armed criminal group,” Suriastawa claimed.
He said the military and the National Police always respected religious and traditional figures everywhere, including in Papua, and that authorities would gain nothing by getting into a conflict with them.
“The military and the police truly need the support of public figures because they serve as role models, particularly with regard to compliance with the law,” Suriastawa said.
The military had launched an operation to dispatch Rufinus after observing him for almost a week since last Wednesday, he said.
During the raid, the security team also seized a set of bows and arrows, an array of sharp weapons and custom firearms, a document detailing the organizational structure of an armed criminal group in Intan Jaya, as well as Rp 69 million in cash (US$4,700) as evidence.
A child identified as Rufinus’ younger brother was also injured during the incident, according to the Timika Diocese.
The diocese was currently writing a report of Rafinus’ death, including a complete timeline of the incident, Marthen said.