Allegations regarding excessive use of force during military operation in Opitawak Village – at least one dead and two injured

  • Print

A military operation in Opitawak Village of Mimika Regency, has cost the lives of at least one villager named Timotius Omabak. At least two other villagers – Ruben Kupugau and 15-year-old Kapin Wamang – were injured by bullets and had to be hospitalized. The incident occurred on 4 April 2018 at 10.15 am in the Tembaggapura District near the copper and gold mine of mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia. The incident has been confirmed by media sources and the Indonesian military (TNI). Infantry Colonel Muhammad Aidi of the XVII Cenderawasih military command stated in a public interview, that members of the armed resistance movement (TPN) had allegedly burnt down villagers’ houses after they were pushed back in a fire fight with military. He also claimed that Timotius Omabak was a member of the TPN.

A number of national media outlets published articles about the incident which are consistent with the military’ s version of the chronology of events. However, a video testimony published on You Tube on 18 April 2018 describes a different version of the incident. The video shows a group of four indigenous women, some of the holding babies in their arms. The man behind the camera explains that they witnessed the attack by the Indonesian military. One woman tells the chronology of the incident in her indigenous language. A local man who appears to be a villager translates the testimony.

According to video testimony, the villagers had raised five Indonesian flags as the military approached the village. Subsequently, all villagers gathered below the flags to show the military members that they were civilians and not part of the resistance movement. The villagers stated that the military members – regardless of these precautions - indiscriminately opened fire at them, killing two people and injuring at least three. Some villagers fled into the surrounding forest to seek shelter. So far, the exact numbers and identity of victims remains unclear. A final version of the chronology of the events has not yet been confirmed by local or national human rights organisations.

Repeated exchange of fire between the members of the armed resistance movement (TPN) and Indonesian military forces (TNI) have affected the lives of the civilian population in the Tembaggapura district since November 2017. On 14 November 2017 a police officer was killed during exchange of fire with members of the Papuan Liberation Army (TPN). One police officer and a Freeport employee sustained bullet wounds during the fire fight. Another armed clash occurred three days later, as joint security forces evacuated a group of villagers from the villages Banti and Kimbeli.

The Indonesian military general Gatot Nurmantyo and the national police chief Tito Karnavian classified the situation as the 'taking of 1.400 hostages by a criminal armed group' ('Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata'). National media outlets reported the hostage taking in the villages of Banti and Kimbeli, hence the security situation at the Freeport Mine received Indonesia-wide attention in national newspapers and television broadcasts. Some national media outlets reported that the TPN burned down small stores owned by migrants. The independent Australian media network Fairfax interviewed a villager from Banti Village in relation to the so called 'hostage taking'. According to the villager, neither Papuan nor Non-Papuan villagers had been taken hostage and no stores were burned down as it had been reported by the national media.