Pacific Media Watch correspondent
The pro-independence conflict in West Papua with a missionary plane reportedly being shot down at Intan Jaya has stirred contrasting responses from the TNI/POLRI state sources, church leaders and an independence leader.
A shooting caused a plane to catch fire on 6 January 2021 in the Intan Jaya regency, Papua province.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) or OPM (Papua Liberation Organisation) were alleged to have opened fire on the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) aircraft.
The shooting and blaze also sparked different responses from the leader of the KINGMI Synod on the Land of Papua, the interim president of the ULMWP, the TPNPM spokesperson and Indonesian police officers.
Jubi reports that the Head of Public Relations of the Papua Police (Kombes Pol), Achmad Mustofa Kamal, said the aircraft was set ablaze when it landed at Pagamba Airport, Nabire City, Papua.
The MAF PK-MAX aircraft piloted by an American citizen, Alex Luferchek departed from Nabire airport carrying two passengers from the local community bound for Pagamba (MAF’s pioneering airport), Biandoga district, Intan Jaya regency.
About 09.30am, pilot Luferchek reported via radio to the MAF office that the plane had landed at Pagamba airport.
Pilot secured by priests
When the pilot got off the plane, somebody – allegedly from an “Armed Criminal Group” (the Indonesian security description for TPNPB) – came with a gun. He fired a shot into the air while telling the pilot to duck.
The pilot was secured by priests and the community and taken to to Kampung Tekai, the border between Kampung Bugalaga and Kampung Pagamba, Mbiandoga district, Intan Jaya regency.
According to Sebby Sambom, an international spokesman for the TPNPB, the reports he had received were only related to the shooting. His party did not yet know about the burning of the MAF aircraft.
Sambom said that the arson was reported by Indonesian media to “build a bad narrative” against the TPNPB.
“We’re freedom fighters. The ones who have developed this burning aircraft issue are the Indonesian media,” he said.
Sambom also said that the shootings carried out by the TPNPB were not arbitrary. His party had learned that the TNI/POLRI used missionary planes to transport Indonesian military and their logistics.
Benny Wenda, acting President of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, told Pacific Media Watch by telephone that the ULMWP was the umbrella organisation for independence groups.
Struggle through ‘peaceful means’
He said the ULMWP struggle was a struggle through peaceful means.
He added that the enemy of TPNPB was the Indonesian army, not humanitarian workers and that West Papuans always “respected missionaries and other humanitarian workers” for their sacrifices and services to the people of the West Papua region.
“The shooting that took place (on January 4) was two days after the statement made by the former head of the State Intelligence Agency, Hendropriyono, that some missionaries had been involved using the church’s channels in an effort to liberate Papua from Indonesia,” said Wenda.
Retired general Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono from Kopassus, the Indonesian Army special forces group is also the first head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
Wenda, who is currently living in Oxford, United Kingdom, as interim President of West Papua-in-exile, says his party is fighting for the independence of West Papua through peaceful means.
“In our policy it is very clear that, we do not take any harmful action against missionaries or any other humanitarian workers, because it would violate international law,” said Wenda.
He said the public could not simply accept the news reported by Indonesian authorities because an incident like this had happened because it is likely it was was “fabricated by the Indonesians”.
Asked whether the OPM was a terrorist organisation, Wenda said: “West Papua does not have terrorists. In fact, it was Indonesia who came to Papua as terrorists killing Papuans with modern weapons”.
This report has been compiled by a special Pacific Media Watch freedom project correspondent.