Separatist gunmen in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province ambushed a truck and opened fire on passengers, killing at least 10 people, including a Christian pastor, and wounding two others.
The Christian pastor has been identified as Eliaser Baner, who was on his way to a church conference, and the other nine were traders transporting goods through a remote highland area on July 16, when they were ambushed by 20 gunmen, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said.
The West Papua National Liberation Army, or TPNPB, the military wing of Papua’s main separatist group, the Free Papua Organization, claimed responsibility for the killing, claiming they were Jakarta’s spies disguised as workers, The Jakarta Post reported last week.
“We shot 11 [Indonesian] people, and a Papuan because he took our pictures and fought back when the TPNPB questioned him,” the group’s spokesperson Egianus Kogeya was quoted as saying in a statement.
The spokesperson added that the rebel group would not compromise with anyone, “either non-Papuans or suspicious Papuans,” until Papua gained its independence. “If you ignore this warning, you are part of the Indonesian terrorist security forces.”
Re. Henrek Lokra, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Desk at the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, responded to the tragedy, urging the “government to form an independent investigation team to … [look] into the killings of civilians,” ICC said.
The armed insurgency for independence started in Papua after Indonesia’s alleged annexation of the territory in 1969 through a referendum, which many local people believe was a sham.
The Southeast Asian country, which is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, has 20.4 million Protestants and 8.42 million Catholics, who together comprise 10.58% of the total population of 272.23 million, according to the latest data from the Directorate General of the Department of Population and Civil Registration of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Geographically, there are 30 Muslim-majority provinces. In only four provinces is Islam a minority religion or below 50%, including West Papua.
Indonesia’s Constitution is based on the doctrine of Pancasila — five principles upholding the nation’s belief in the one and only God and social justice, humanity, unity and democracy for all.
While Pastor Baner wasn’t killed just because of his Christian identity, there are many extremist groups in Indonesia that oppose Pancasila and target the Christian minority.
Churches often face opposition from groups that attempt to obstruct the construction of non-Muslim houses of worship. Human Rights Watch previously said that more than 1,000 churches in the archipelago had been closed due to pressure from such groups.