JAYAPURA, March 31 (AP): A government soldier, his wife and an independence fighter were killed in two separate attacks in Indonesia’s restive Papua province, security officers and a rebel spokesperson said Thursday.
Clashes have escalated in eastern Indonesia’s Papua province since last year, when rebels set fire to several schools and killed two teachers in a village in Puncak district.
Attackers from the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organisation, fatally shot a soldier, killed his wife by slashing her neck, and injured their two children in an assault at a house Thursday morning in Elelim village in Yalimo district, said Papua deputy military chief Lt. Col. Candra Kurniawan.
The soldier’s wife, a midwife who helped indigenous Papuan women give birth, died on the way to a clinic, Kurniawan said, adding that police and military forces were searching for the attackers, who fled into the jungle.
Rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom confirmed that the group’s fighters carried out the attack, saying it was part of their struggle for independence from Indonesia, which they accuse of conducting a genocidal campaign against Papuans.
Separately, Indonesian security forces on Wednesday fatally shot a local rebel commander, Toni Tabuni, who was resisting arrest in a raid in Nabire district, and arrested another rebel who was with him, Papua police spokesperson Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said.
He said Tabuni was allegedly involved in at least nine deadly attacks on security forces and civilians, including an Indonesian brigadier general, two teachers and a health worker who worked for a COVID-19 task force.
Shortly after Tabuni died, rebels set fire to nine classrooms in a school in Intan Jaya district and badly injured two teachers. Sambom said the attack was in retaliation for Tabuni’s death.
“We don’t need schools and development organised by Indonesia which is just an image to cover up the killings and genocide in Papua,” he said in a recorded message sent to The Associated Press. “We can do it ourselves if Papua is independent.”
Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea, is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
Attacks have spiked in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.