JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian security forces said Monday they have arrested six elite troops who are accused of involvement in the killing of four indigenous Papuans and the mutilation of their bodies.
“We are committed to upholding the law in this case,” Papua military chief Maj. Gen. Teguh Muji Angkasa told reporters in Jayapura, the capital of restive Papua province, “If any of our soldiers are involved in criminal acts, we will not tolerate it.”
Residents of Iwaka village in Mimika district were shocked on Friday by the discovery of four sacks, each containing a headless and legless torso, in the village river. Two other sacks were found separately, one containing four heads and the other eight legs.
Police determined that the victims were residents of neighboring Nduga district who allegedly had driven a rented van to meet someone who had offered to sell an AK-47 rifle and a gun for 250 million rupiah ($16,800). Police said the men’s mutilated bodies were placed in sacks filled with rocks and thrown into the river.
Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished Papua region, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
Papua military spokesperson Lt. Col. Herman Taryaman said the victims are suspected of having been sympathizers of an armed separatist group.
“The victims were actively looking for weapons and ammunition in Mimika,” Taryaman said.
Papua police spokesperson Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said the perpetrators also set fire to the men’s van and took the money that was intended for buying the weapons. Police arrested three civilians over the weekend for suspected involvement in the killing, and that led to the arrest of the six soldiers by military police, Kamal said.
Sebby Sambom, a spokesperson for the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the pro-independence Free Papua Organization, urged Indonesian President Joko Widodo to try the perpetrators in an open court and “punish them with the death penalty.”
“This is a crime against humanity by the Indonesian government through its security Forces,” Sambom said in a statement, adding that his group is ready to carry out “retaliation operations” if the government ignores their demand.
Conflict in the region has spiked in the past year, with dozens of rebels, security forces and civilians killed.
In July, gunmen believed to be separatist rebels killed 10 traders who came from other Indonesian islands and an indigenous Papuan. Sambom later claimed responsibility for the killing, accusing the victims of being spies for the Indonesian government.
In March, rebel gunmen killed eight technicians repairing a remote telecommunications tower. In December 2018, at least 31 construction workers and a soldier were killed in one of the worst attacks in the province.
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