Thousands flee military in Papuan highlands

'They're still hiding in the forests because the soldiers are in their village, and if they go back they are scared… the military will just shoot them.' Papuan Baptist Minister

At least three people, including a tribal Pastor, have been killed in a military operation in the area around Mulia in the central highlands of Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya). Up to 6,000 tribal people have fled to the mountains and forests where they face starvation, too scared to emerge from their hideouts in case they are shot. At least 23 people are known to have died so far from starvation in the forest. The highlands have become a 'militarised zone', and access is being denied to church officials attempting to give aid.

The military operatins is believed to be in retaliation for the earlier killing of Indonesian road workers, allegedly by the OPM (Free Papua Movement). However, many believe the killings were staged by militia supported by the Indonesian military. The Military may be trying to pressure the new Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to give up his plan to resolve Papua's conflict through peaceful dialogue. The military relies heavily on the resource-rich Papua to supplement its income through the illegal logging, and providing 'security' for the American and British-owned Grasberg copper and gold mine.