Friday, February 02, 2007

Papuan officials to assist evacuees to return home

The Papuan provincial and local government officials are being dispatched to Yamo in Puncak Jaya regency, Papua province, to encourage thousands of people fleeing a crackdown on separatists to return home. Around 2,000 people moved from the Yamo river to the center of Yamo district following military and police attacks on Free Papua Movement (OPM) rebels in the area.

"We will go to the place (where the evacuees temporarily live) Monday with representatives of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and National Police," Yamo district head Philipus Tabuni said Thursday. Tabuni said those fleeing were not classified as refugees, but only as people seeking refuge. He said it was feared the fleeing masses could face food shortages as stocks they held begin to dwindle. "They mostly rely on cassavas ... they do need food assistance," he told Nethy Dharma Somba of The Jakarta Post.

The Association of Papua Churches (PGGP) will establish a humanitarian post to distribute relief aid in response to the reported threat of food shortages. The post, which will be located at the office of the NGO's Cooperation Forum in Papua, will also coordinate relief aid from donors. "We will open the office this week," said the forum's director, Septer Manufandu.

Vice chairman of PGGP, Rev. Lipius Bilinik, who is also head of the Evangelical Church of Indonesia (GIDI) synod, said PGGP would send letters to Papuan parishioners requesting donations.

Spokesman of the Trikora Military Command, Lt. Col. Imam Santoso, Wednesday said the number of people facing food shortages was 2,000, not 5,000 as claimed by PGGP. "Are there any photos indicating that? Has anyone seen the refugees?" he asked.

Imam said a number of people had moved to Yamo, but that exact numbers were unclear as no reports had arrived from the area. He said they were not refugees, but rather people avoiding the threat from an armed group who had broken the law by killing a soldier in December last year.

Imam believed the PGGP had given the wrong information as it could not provide any proof of its claims. "This is the same as giving false information," he said. Imam said TNI and the police, along with the provincial administration, would never knowingly create public unrest and insecurity.

Imam called on the civilian armed group to relinquish their weapons and return to society. He said humanitarian aid would be provided to Yamo's residents if the PGGP's inflated reports of mass evacuations proved to be true. "The TNI and the police are ready to provide assistance and security if the mass exodus indeed took place. But, there are no facts. The TNI and police would not let people suffer by not helping them," he said.

Imam also urged people not to involve themselves with the armed group and to continue with their daily lives.

Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu called on the state apparatus to conduct a manhunt for members of the armed group. He said this action would minimize unrest among Papua's citizens.

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