• Rikki Lambert

Papuan insurgency claims lives

West Papuan protesters in Jakarta in 2019

Separatist gunmen killed eight technicians repairing a remote telecommunications tower in Indonesia's restive Papua province.

The Wednesday attack in what security authorities claim has been the worst in three years saw technicians targeted as they repaired a telecommunications tower. The tower owned by Indonesia's largest carrier Telkomsel in Beoga district was assailed by members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said on Friday.

Another worker found the bodies the following day and reported the incident to authorities, he said. 

The TPNPB, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, claimed responsibility for the attack, issuing this statement:

"We shot dead eight people. One person fell into a ravine when we shot him, so we don't know his fate."

The armed group urged the Indonesian government to stop a planned gold mine at the Wabu Block in Intan Jaya district, close a gold and copper mine operated by US-based Freeport McMoRan and bring rights violators to justice.

"As long as ...Freeport is still running, we will continue to fight and fight until the last drop of our blood," the group said.

In December 2018, 20 people were killed when separatist rebels attacked workers building the trans-Papua highway.

Papua, on the western half of New Guinea island, has been the scene of a separatist insurgency since the 1960s. 

The mainly Melanesian region was incorporated into Indonesia in a UN-administered ballot in 1969.

At the time amidst the Cold War, Australia feared war on three fronts in Vietnam, Malaysia and western New Guinea, as the Dutch colony was then known. Then Indonesian President Sukarno's rhetoric about returning the colony 'to the fatherland', Indonesia's growing links to the then Communist bloc and war footing increased the pressure on the Dutch to cede the territory. Australia in the latter era of the post-Menzies Liberal-National coalition government at the time elected to switch support from Dutch retention to support Indonesia's claim.