Angry Soldiers Run Riot in Papua

Angry Soldiers Run Riot in Papua

The Jakarta Globe
Christian Motte
Markus Junianto Sihaloho

Jayapura. Hundreds of soldiers went after senior officers on
Wednesday and damaged their battalion headquarters in Papua
after the family of a deceased soldier was told to pay half the
cost of flying his body home.

Members of the 751 Battalion, in the first such incident in the
decade since the fall of former President Suharto, also fired
shots into the air and beat civilian onlookers and journalists
trying to cover the mutiny.

The soldiers threw stones and other objects at the office of the
battalion’s headquarters, and blocked the road with pieces of
wood. Curious onlookers and journalists were chased away or
beaten up. The camera of a local journalist was ripped from his
hands and several private vehicles near the scene of the
violence were vandalized, witnesses said.

The deputy commander of the battalion received a head wound,
according to a source quoted by news Web site
Tempointeraktif.com, but the report could not be immediately
confirmed.

Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Christian Zebua said that the mutiny
had been spurred by the soldiers’ anger toward their commander
following the death of a fellow soldier. It took five days for
the body of the soldier, who died after falling ill, to be
returned to his family in Nabire, also in Papua, about 380
kilometers southwest of Jayapura.

Zebua said it may have taken time to charter a plane.

The family of the soldier had paid half of the cost to transport
the body, Zebua acknowledged, as the commander, identified as
Lt. Col. Lambok, had only offered to cover half of the expenses.

Papua, a sprawling, underdeveloped province, relies heavily on
air transportation and residents said that the cost of
chartering a plane to fly the body to Nabire would have been Rp
90 million ($8,400). “And this morning, feeling discontented,
the soldiers demanded to know why the commander only paid 50
percent of the cost, and why low-ranking soldiers still had to
pay,” Zebua said.

He denied soldiers had stolen guns stored at the base. The guns
used by the soldiers during the riot were not taken from
battalion, Zebua said, “but every soldier does have a weapon
because they are all equipped with a gun to secure the area.”

He said the head of the Cenderawasih Military Command overseeing
military operations in Papua had arrived on the scene to resolve
the conflict at the base, as well as between soldiers and
civilians and journalists.

“If any journalist was attacked by soldiers, we will protect
[journalists] and we apologize. Any soldier found guilty [of
attacking journalists] will be punished,” Zebua said. He added
that the responsibilities of the battalion, including security
along the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border, had not been
compromised by the incident.

Witnesses said that by Wednesday evening the situation had
calmed.

The incident followed brawls between soldiers and police in the
Tolikara district of Papua on Monday and Tuesday.

Papua Police Chief Insp. Gen. Bagus Eko Danto said that some
shots had been fired during the brawls, understood to have been
triggered by an incident involving a drunk police officer.