In the last few days, shootings carried out by the West Papuan Liberation Army has led to the death of at least 31 Papua New Guineans in a central district of the country.
Some 17 of the victims were reportedly construction workers and another five police officers who were sent by the state to quell the liberation army. Multiple local reports have reported the death toll as being anywhere from 24 to 31 people; which the international media is yet to verify the exact number.
The rebel group claims the construction workers were members of the military who had documented their independence day parade held on December 31.
The group claimed that their act was in self-defense, against state-repression inflicted by the Indonesian military, adding that the construction project the military had been working on -- a bridge to connect the towns of Wamena and Agats -- only benefited law enforcement, but not the larger population.
The Ministry of Public Works and Housing claims the workers were contracted specifically to conduct the project. The workers are mostly migrants from Java who often settle in Papua Guinea and are not welcomed by “separatists,” according to ABC news.
“We don’t want to fight, we want to sit and talk to the UN (United Nations), or war will be coming soon,” Jacob Rumbiak, a spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua -- which is a separatist group from the region but not connected to the Liberation Army -- stated.
Tensions in West Papua New Guinea have prolonged for decades. Liberation movements claim the Indonesian police have brutally repressed dissents, alleging extrajudicial killings by law enforcement.