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JAKARTA - One mid-February morning in the central highlands of the Indonesian province of Papua, the army said Prada Ginanjar Arianda, a 22-year-old member of the 400 Banteng Raiders commando battalion, was shot in the stomach by separatist fighters and died.
About 24 hours later, after a sweep by security forces through nearby hamlets that sent hundreds of residents fleeing to the safety of two churches, distraught family members were at a health clinic collecting the bodies of three brothers, Janius, Soni and Yustinus Bagau.
Ever since Papua was incorporated into Indonesia after a United Nations-supervised vote by only about 1,025 people in 1969, Indonesia has tried to quell a rebellion among its distinct Melanesian indigenous population of about 2.5 million who are seeking independence. Papua, rich in resources, has among the worst poverty rates in Indonesia despite $7.4 billion of funding by the central government over the past 20 years.
In a statement to media the day after the shootings, the military said the brothers were armed separatists who tried to seize their weapons and were killed by security forces in an act of self-defence. The military did not specify who it held responsible for Arianda’s death.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen people, including a Catholic priest and a local government official, family members and human rights monitors by phone and also reviewed photos of the men’s bodies, a report on the killing of the brothers by human rights investigators in Papua and other evidence which all cast doubt on the official version of how the men died.
Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy, the biggest economy in fast-growing Southeast Asia and an increasingly important global diplomatic player in efforts to resolve conflicts in Myanmar and Afghanistan. But the United Nations and rights advocates say its security forces are carrying out grave abuses at home.
“We are continuing to receive credible reports of excessive use of force by the military and police, including extrajudicial killings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention of indigenous Papuans,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Reuters.
Since 2010, there have been 178 unlawful killings of civilians by security forces in the Papua region, according to data from Amnesty International. In the past three years alone, Amnesty said there had been at least 83 victims.
Indonesia’s coordinating minister for security Mahfud MD did not respond to detailed findings and questions sent to his office last Tuesday related to the men’s deaths and broader concerns of human rights abuses by security forces in Papua. He released a statement on Wednesday to the media saying that Papua was part of Indonesia and this “will be maintained at all costs necessary.”