When they reached them, a confrontation ensued and a large crowd amassed. The accused kidnappers were migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia, while the crowd were mostly indigenous Papuans. More than a dozen police appeared, some carrying assault rifles. The authorities asked the girl to recount what happened as she stood barefoot in the dirt, fidgeting and appearing fearful under the expectant gaze of the mob.
Responding to the violence, witnesses say Indonesian security forces sprayed tear gas at the rioters while footage shows smoke from the burning buildings darkening the sky. Yet the police reaction only sparked further anger. The melee then shifted to the sound of live gunfire cracking through the crowd. Bodies began falling.By the end of the incident, the two suspected kidnappers were stabbed to death and 10 indigenous Papuans were killed, their bodies riddled with bullets from security forces. Another 20 Wamena residents were injured in the attack.
“I suspect this was a targeted shooting as they hit vital areas,” Hesegem said. The Indonesian Mobile Brigade Corps—a paramilitary police force known as Brimob—began shooting “continuously,” he added.
Inggi Kogoya was inside his home when he first heard the gunshots ring out on Thursday. Flustered from the sudden sound of shooting, the 23-year-old ran outside to see what was happening. As soon as he exited his house he saw his older brother, Mian Karunggu, on the ground with a bullet wound in his chest.
Moments earlier his brother had been trying to protect the street by building a makeshift barricade, an instinctive act following years of living in conflict zones. Karunggu had fled to Wamena in 2018 to escape fighting in nearby Nduga regency, an area torn by clashes between Papuan separatist rebels and occupying Indonesian security forces. He was just one of tens of thousands displaced by the continuing conflict and made efforts to avoid the violence.
“All they [Papuans] had was rocks in their hand to try to defend themselves, but it was the police and soldiers who started to shoot brutally at the people… It was a battle between rocks and weapons.”
But a bullet found him anyway. “He fell straight away,” Kogoya told VICE World News. “All they [Papuans] had was rocks in their hand to try to defend themselves, but it was the police and soldiers who started to shoot brutally at the people… It was a battle between rocks and weapons.”Kogoya said his brother was rushed to a nearby hospital. It was too late. Gripping the side of a stretcher and clenching his teeth from the pain as one of Karunggu’s daughters stood over him, crying, he died from his wounds.
A quiet cattle farmer who had not been a part of the mob, according to his brother, the 30-year-old Karunggu left behind an infant girl and nine other children.
“We are constantly living in trauma because they [Indonesian security forces] are around us and killing us as if we were animals,” Kogoya added. “As long as we’re living in Indonesia we will never have freedom as a Papua people. This massacre is not the first time. We feel anxious living our everyday lives.”
According to experts, armed rebel groups in the region have become more dangerous than ever as they have adapted and modernized. Earlier this month, members of the West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement, took a New Zealand bush pilot hostage to protest an influx of Western aid to the Indonesian military. In October, four construction workers were killed in a separatist attack.
“There is a long history of human rights violations [in Wamena], but they were never solved by the government,” said Haluk, who is also from Wamena.“This conflict can grow bigger because there is no justice. We know we won’t get justice even though we have victims,” Haluk said.According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, an estimated 11,000 people died from conflict-related causes between 1977 and 1978 in the Jayawijaya region encompassing Wamena. In 2003, after an attack on Indonesian security supplies, at least nine people were killed in Wamena and thousands fled as the police and military retaliated. In 2019, at least 33 people were killed during riots allegedly sparked when a teacher called a Papuan student a “monkey.”
Amnesty International has reported cases of sexual assault and torture by Indonesian security forces, but even when investigations are launched, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
However, Indonesian authorities have taken a different view. “The news about child kidnapping is not true because those two gentlemen were salesmen who were doing their work,” said Papua Province Police Spokesperson, Ignatius Benny Ady Prabowo, in a TV interview on Saturday. “There is now an investigation to look for the perpetrators who disseminated the hoax and instigated provocations that led to the riot in Wamena.”
VICE World News approached the chief of the Indonesian National Police, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publishing. However, regional police chief Hesman Napitupulu told local media that he asked residents to “not to be provoked by things that turn the situation into chaos.”Later on Sunday night, two vendors in Wamena were also attacked, reportedly stabbed by an unidentified group. And although the violence has simmered in Wamena as of Monday, for now, many are worried that more bloodshed may be on the horizon. “The events that occurred in Wamena indicate the repeated cases of violence that have claimed the lives of many civilians in Papua,” said Usman Hamid, executive director at Amnesty International Indonesia, in a statement. “Acts of violence, let alone causing many casualties, will only escalate the cycle of violence and armed conflict there. It’s a loss for everyone.”
Elma Nazhira contributed to reportingFollow Jack Brook on Twitter