Villagers face starvation as military operation sweeps through Papua

On 4 April 2003 the military command post (Kodim 1702) in the central highland town of Wamena was attacked by unknown men. Weapons and ammunition were stolen. Two soldiers and one of the attackers were killed. The Indonesian military, the TNI, accused Papuan separatists of the attack and detained up to thirty people. Many were beaten and tortured. Yapenas Murib was killed whilst under military arrest after being tied by his neck with a chain to the back of a truck and dragged along a road. Paulina Itlay, was beaten, mutilated, burnt with cigarette butts and raped by military officers.

Within days of the attack 186 army personnel, including some of the notorious Kopassus and Kostrad units, were deployed to the region. A mass sweeping operation through highland villages began and as a result, many innocent civilians were killed, homes and crops were destroyed, and approximately 1000 villagers have been forced to flee their homes. These villagers are hiding in the forests, too scared to return to their homes. They have no access to food, are exposed to extreme conditions and are experiencing widespread starvation. Some of the soldiers have now been withdrawn from the region, but many remain. Already a number of people have died from starvation and exposure and there are concerns for the rest of those in hiding.