JAKARTA (BNO NEWS) — Indonesian police have been forced to release twelve alleged separatist rebels just a day after announcing they had made a major breakthrough in the war against the Free Papua Movement (OPM), local media reported on Saturday.
The police chief in Puncak Jaya district of Papua, Alex Korwa, said that they had released the men because they have “no proof” that the men are OPM rebels. Residents told the Jakarta Globe that people in the violence-torn area are living in fear, scared that police may repeat the same mistake.
On Thursday, National Police Spokesman Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said that after months of pursuit they had arrested 12 men believed to be part of a larger group responsible for a number of armed attacks on security authorities, including the killing of Mulia Police Chief Dominggus Otto Awe at a local airport on October 24. A 13th person who allegedly tried to escape during the operation was shot dead.
The Papua branch of the National Commission on Human Rights criticized the arrests, saying police cannot “randomly arrest and shoot people.” “When they arrest someone, they need to have sufficient preliminary evidence. These kinds of actions create further unrest among civilians,” deputy chairman Matius Murib said.
Al Araf, the program director at human rights watchdog Imparsial, said the police actions were in keeping with their treatment of all indigenous Papuans as suspected separatists. These kinds of attitudes, he added, impede negotiations between Papua and Jakarta aimed at increasing development in the region and quelling the growing separatist sentiment there.
In late October, the government of Indonesia deployed around 300 military personnel to Papua to increase security in the region. In the previous weeks, several people had been shot dead in the region, including six people who were found dead following a gathering by pro-independence activists in the town of Abepura, which was dispersed by Indonesian security forces who fired warning shots and tear gas.