Thousands flee army operation in West Papua

January 22, 2007

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In recent weeks large numbers of Indonesian soldiers, including special forces, have been deployed to the Punkak Jaya region of West Papua, causing an estimated 5,000 tribespeople to flee into the jungle.

The military build-up is in response to the killing of two soldiers near the town of Mulia on December 9, 2006. The army blames West Papua's separatist fighters, the OPM, for the killings. but local human rights activists are sceptical, saying the military often generates conflicts in the province to justify its own lucrative presence there.

Many of the more vulnerable tribespeople are likely to die from starvation, too scared to leave their hideaways to collect food. In 2004 a similar operation in the highlands resulted in 6,000 fleeing their homes; at least 23 died from starvation.

The military regards anyone it finds as suspects, and treats them with brutality. Human rights workers and outsiders are banned from the area during these operations so the outside world remains largely oblivious to the atrocities that may be unfolding.

Papuan Tribes