Indonesian police nab Papuan separatist leader

Yanto Awerkion is accused of supplying ammunition to a local criminal group

By Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta Published: September 27, 2022 04:22 AM GMT

Indonesian police have arrested a pro-independence leader in Central Papua province for allegedly supplying ammunition to an armed criminal group, locally known as KKB.

Cartenz Peace Operation Task Force spokesman Ahmad Mustofa Kamal told reporters on Sept 24 that Yanto Awerkion, who heads the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in Mimika district, was arrested on Sept. 23 at his residence in Kebon Sirih village.

The task force seized a large cache of ammunition from MN’s residence during a raid, according to Kamal. Another man — identified only as BK — was also arrested at the weekend.

He also said the three, who were already named as suspects in the ammunition supply case, played different roles. Awerkion was the seller, while MN and BK served as the buyer and the funder, respectively.

The ammunition was supposed to be given to Undius Kogoya, a leader of the KKB in Intan Jaya district, Kamal said, adding that the task force is pursuing other individuals involved in the case.

He said the arrest was carried out following the arrest of a man — identified only as MN — a day earlier by the task force after it obtained information on a planned delivery of ammunition to the KKB.

“We suspect that the arrest is an attempt to divert the attention of the Papuan people”

Besides leading KNPB, which was founded in 2008 by a group of NGOs to mobilize the West Papuan people towards independence through a referendum, Awerkion, a 32-year-old Catholic, faces several charges.

In March 2018, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison by Timika District Court for his involvement in a pro-independence petition which gathered more than 1.8 million signatures in West Papua.

KNPB spokesman Ones Suhuniap called the arrest of Awerkion “pure criminalization.”

“We suspect that the arrest is an attempt to divert the attention of the Papuan people, in general, and of the Timika people, in particular, from the killing and mutilation of four civilians from Nduga district. Some parts of their bodies have not been found yet,” he said in a written statement seen by UCA News on the Facebook page of KNPB News.

The bodies of the four Protestant Christians were discovered by residents of Iwaka village in Mimika district in sacks floating on the Pigapu River on Aug 26. Six soldiers and four civilians have been named as suspects in the case.

The soldiers accused the victims of having links with a pro-independence separatist movement and allegedly killed them on Aug 22 after pretending to sell weapons to them.

“Take strict action against those who violate it”

“We want the Papua police chief to stop criminalizing and scapegoating the KNPB in Timika and to immediately release its leader,” Suhuniap said, claiming that there was “a scenario” in his arrest and naming as a suspect.

Meanwhile, Emanuel Gobay, a human rights activist and director of the Legal Aid Institute in Papua, said there were some illegal ammunition transactions in Papua as recorded by the Democratic Alliance for Papua in its latest report.

“Many were involved in such activities, both civilians and security officers,” he told UCA News.

Released in July, the report showed that there were 51 people — 31 civilians, 14 soldiers and six policemen — sent to prison because of their involvement in illegal ammunition transactions in the Papua region between 2011 and 2021.

Gobay called on police “to strongly uphold the 1951 law on the possession of illegal firearms” and “to take strict action against those who violate it.”

Following the end of Dutch colonial rule in 1962, Indonesia annexed Christian-majority Papua through a 1969 referendum, considered a sham by many.

However, an independence movement that began in 1965 soon turned into an armed struggle, prompting a heavy-handed response from the Indonesian military. Thousands of civilians, soldiers, and separatists have been killed in the conflict in the decades since.


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