A rescue team consisting of church leaders, Nduga government representatives, local parliament members and civil society figures have published a report on the killing of 17 government contractors. The report also contains information on the rescue mission, which was launched on 13 December 2018 to evacuate the bodies of four more employees who were still missing since the killing. The rescue team collected information on the military raid between 4 and 10 December 2018 and the situation of affected indigenous communities in the districts Mbuwa, Dal and Mbulmu Yalma.
The company PT Istaka Karya was contracted by the Indonesian Government to build parts of the Trans Papua Road in the Nduga Regency. In 2017, members of the West Papuan National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) came to an agreement with workers of the road construction company PT Istaka Karya that every year all construction workers must leave the work camp on 24 November. The agreement was made to prevent that the workers would disturb the commemorations of the Papuan National Day on 1st December. Notwithstanding the agreement, the project management did not allow the workers to leave the camp before 24 November 2018. Only a few workers decided to leave work camp, fearing that the TPN-PB feel provocated by their presence.
On 1 December 2018, PT Istaka Karya project supervisor, Joni Arung, and one of his colleagues participated in a worship ceremony and subsequently watched the collective cooking of a pig at the Congregation of the Papuan Tabernacle Church (KINGMI Papua) in Wuridlak Village. The ceremony was also attended by TPN-PB leader Egianus Kogoya and his men, who had donated a pig for the commemoration.
As Joni Arung took pictures of the TPN-PB fighters, Egianus Kogoya became angry. He suspected that Joni Arung was cooperating with the Indonesian security apparatus and would share the pictures of him and his men to the military and state intelligence. The TPN-PB leader seized his mobile phone, checked the pictures and threatened to kill Joni Arung if he would refuse to unlock his mobile phone. Egianus Kogoya checked the pictures and messages on the phone while questioning Joni Arung about the content of messages. As Joni Arung refused to answer, Egianus Kogoya gave the order to arrest all workers at the PT Istaka Karya camp.
On 2 December 2018, the TPN-OPM fighters went to the work camp and arrested 24 PT. Istaka Karya employees. The resistance members tied up the workers’ hands and brought them to the Kabo Mountain, which is located between the districts Yigi and Mbuwa of Nduga Regency, where the TPN-OPM members killed all employees which they suspected to be members of the Indonesian military. A few workers were allegedly released because the resistance leaders believed they were civilian workers. While the exact number of executed workers is uncertain, security forces evacuated 17 bodies, all of them employees of PT Istaka Karya.
On 3 December 2018, at 6.00 am, TPN-PB members attacked the 756 military post in Mbuwa Regency. The exchange of fire lasted until 6.00 pm in the evening. On 4 December 2018, at 11.30, joint security forces launched a military offensive in response to the attacks on the workers and the military post in Mbuwa district. Ground troups were closing in from the Jayawijaya regency, while four military helicopters from a military base in Timika were deployed to Kenyam, the main city in the Nduga regency. Eyewitnesses claimed that one helicopter dropped seven explosives in two locations named Opmo and Ditbobo, while the other three helicopters fired large caliber machine guns at various targets, including several villages in the Mbuwa District. It is unclear which types of explosives were used. Eyewitnesses claimed that the projectiles exploded in the sky and subsequently produced a dense smoke. The military raids continued until 10 December 2018 in various districts of the Nduga regency.
Rescue mission to evacuate bodies and meet victims
On 13 December 2018, a team consisting of church leaders, Nduga government representatives, local parliament members and civil society figures launched a rescue mission to evacuate the bodies of four more employees who were missing since the massacre at Kabo Mountain. The team collected information on the military raid and met with witnesses. Security forces were excluded from the team in order to avoid further exchange of fire.
On the first day of the mission, the evacuation team went to Sombeloma village of Mbuwa district. The team found two dead indigenous Papuans named Nison Umangge (18 years) and Mianus Elokbere (18 years) and returned the bodies to their families. Mianus Elokbere’s body was found in the Otalama village, Mbuwa District. Both victims were allegedly killed by bullets as they tried to flee into the forest when helicopters attacked the village on 4 December 2018.
Several indigenous villagers stated that approximately ten military members came to the village and intimidated the villagers. A military member allegedly threatened several families by saying ”You have killed members of our families so we are going to kill you as well”. The military officers gave the order that the villagers were not allowed to leave their houses between 5 and 12 December 2018. Indigenous villagers with long hair and dread locks were allegedly forces to cut their hair.
Further attempts to find the bodies of workers on the 14 and 15 December 2018 were cancelled after joint security forces followed the rescue team to the Kabo mountain. However, the team managed to meet with a victim named Mentus Nimiangge (21 years). He sustained a bullet wound near the right side of the neck during a ground military attack near the Saidlema mountain, which is located in the district of Dal. The bullet had pierced the body and exited on the left side of the back. Mentus Nimiangge died as a result of the injury on 15 December 2018, after security forces were not able to evacuate him with a helicopter. A further villager named Yarion Kogoya died in the Mbulmu Yalma district due to an alleged heart attack. Witnesses stated that he tried to leave the house and then collapsed as he heard the shots during the military raid on 4 December 2018.
A further villager named Rabu Gwijangge was allegedly shot dead by military members as military members launched an attack on Wuridlak Village, Yigi District, on 5 December 2018. Rabu Gwinjangge, his son and a group of villagers watched several military members climbing out of a helicopter. As the soldiers saw the villagers, they allegedly opened fire at them. According to eyewitness reports, Rabu Gwijangge died during the attack, while his son and the other villagers were able to flee. The evacuation team did not find Rabu Gwinjangge’s body because the rescue mission to Yigi had to be aborted.
The team was able to interview Yulianus Tabuni, an active church member who was initially reported dead a few days after the first attacks. Yulianus Tabuni was able to flee an attempted execution by military members. Military members intercepted him and three other villagers at gunpoint, threatening to execute them as an act of revenge. Yulianus Tabuni managed to escape the execution by jumping down a ravine when the military members asked him to speak his final prayer. One of his thighs was injured because of the impact of the landing. The soldiers allegedly released multiple shots in an attempt to kill him after the jump.
It is till uncertain how many indigenous civilians have been injured or killed in the areas Yigi, Dal, Mugi, Mam, Kagayem, Koroptak, Mapenduma, Paro, Yenggelo, Kilmid, Geselema, Meborok during the attacks. Since the initial incident on 2 December 2018, education facilities and activities in these areas have been stopped. According to the rescue team, the health care institutions in the affected areas are dysfunctional or have been abandoned after the armed clashes between the TPN-PB and Indonesian security forces.
Displacement of villagers and missing civilians
Pastors in three affected districts Mbuwa, Dal and Mbulmu Yalma reported that many villagers decided to flee their homes. They feared repressive acts by military members and were unable to collect food from the gardens during the military raid. Cases of displacement were reported from seven KINGMI Papua church congregations of the Mbuwa District and seven congregations in the districts Mbulmu Yalma and Dal. Eye witnesses reported that the refugees could not find any food in the forest. Particularly, children and and elder people carried the burden of the food shortage and extreme weather conditions. Several children reportedly became sick because they only drank water without eating for several days.
In the district of Mbulmu Yalma, five male indigenous villagers – Leniut Gwijangge (19 years), Imanus Nimiangge (21 years), Anol Nimiangge (15 years), Netes Nimiangge (16 years), Alinus Nimiangge (40 years) – are still missing since the beginning of the military offensive on 4 December 2018. They panicked and ran into the forest to hide in the woods. According to the rescue team it was the first time for many indigenous people in the Nduga regency to see helicopters or hear gunfire. Accordingly, the incident caused a panic and trauma among the indigenous peoples in the attacked villages.
On 14 December 2018, joint security forces again launched a large offensive between the villages Iniknggal and Nitkuri, in the Yigi District. A large number of indigenous peoples in the area reportedly fled into the forest and neighboring regencies because they feared repressive acts by Indonesian security forces.