Eight armed men attacked a mining area in Timika, Papua in easternmost Indonesia earlier this week. They shot and killed Graeme Thomas Wall, a New Zealand miner, and wounded four Indonesian workers, two seriously.
Jeffrey Bomanak, the commander of the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the rebel Free Papua Organization, claimed responsibility. Their spokesperson warned employees of Grasberg gold mine, which is operated by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), to leave Papua’s mining areas, which the group declared in 2017 to be “a battle zone.”
The Indonesian police are responsible for investigating the attack and bringing the perpetrators to account. But they should not violate the rights of ordinary Papuans, as happened in 2002 after the fatal shooting of two American teachers and an Indonesian teacher in Timika.
Years after the shooting, in 2006, Indonesian police rounded up a local church leader and his two assistants, while credible reports linking the attack to the Indonesian military were never pursued. The three church workers were wrongfully convicted of “aiding a suspect” when they had actually helped United States investigators interview the criminal suspect.
New Zealand police should offer to send a team to help Indonesian investigators. Criminal investigation in a place such as Timika, with numerous competing political and business interests, is best carried out by an independent investigative team removed from local issues.
Grasberg is the world’s largest gold mine, in operation since 1967, and its owner PTFI says there are more than 1,000 Indonesian security forces and hundreds more private security personnel in the area. Many armed gangs, with various ethnic affiliations, also operate in Timika.
Killings in Timika are not uncommon, though killings of foreigners are rare. In 2015, a local newspaper editor said that since 2003, at least 45 men were shot and killed along the 79-mile route between Timika and Grasberg gold mine, including an Australian miner in 2009. Yet no one has been held to account for these killings.
As well as investigating this latest killing swiftly, the Indonesian government should also allow independent journalists, including from New Zealand’s media, to enter Papua without the region’s highly restrictive travel permit, so that they can freely investigate and report on this crime.