The Intan Jaya conflict 2: Violence at the cost of many civilian lives

Papua People's Representative Council member Thomas Sondegau (left) with the regent and muspida Intan Jaya when they saw the victim of the shooting last October. Image: Tabloid Jubi

SPECIAL REPORT: By Victor Mambor in Jayapura – second of a three-part investigation into the Pastor Yeremia Zanambani assassination.

The atmosphere on Saturday morning, 19 September 2020, in the courtyard of the Elementary School for the Education and Schooling Foundation of Evangelical Churches in Tanah Papua or YPPGI Hitadipa was tense. The Indonesian army gathered Hitadipa civilians in a school yard that had been occupied by the TNI (Indonesia National Army) and made it the Headquarters of the Sub-District Military Command or the Hitadipa Preparation Koramil (Military Rayon Commando).

A number of Hitadipa Preparatory Koramil soldiers said the TNI had given two days for the West Papuan residents to return the SS1 firearms which had been lost two days earlier, on September 17. SS1 were seized by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in an attack that killed Serka Sahlan.

The threat clearly shows the separatist stigmatisation attached to Hitadipa civilians. This threat frightened Hitadipa civilians who were burdened with returning the weapons they had never taken.

The gathering of residents on Saturday morning was not attended by Pastor Jeremiah Zanambani. Since morning, he and his wife, Miriam Zoani, had been going to Bomba, a small village on the hillside south of Kampung Hitadipa, cultivating their garden and repairing their pigpen.

“[Since] Friday night, Father said on Saturday he wanted to help Mama finish or build a garden first, because on Monday [Father] wanted to go up to the assignment. On that Saturday, September 19, both Father and I went to the garden that is in the same location as the pig pen,” said Mama Miriam.

“Father finished the fence in the pig pen, while I harvested the sweet potatoes. While we were working, around 13.00 noon in Hitadipa there were gunshots.

“When we heard the gunshots, we entered the pig pen and closed the door, because the TNI had told us that if we heard gunshots, we had to enter the house and lock the door.” [1]

Gunfire from attack
The gunshots heard by Mama Miriam was gunfire when the TPNPB attacked the Hitadipa Preparatory Koramil Headquarters. The TPNPB attack killed Pratu Dwi Akbar Utomo, a 711/Raksatama Infantry Battalion soldier based in Gorontalo Province, Sulawesi.[2]

He was part of a squad of troops who were seconded to guard the Hitadipa Preparation Koramil.

The incident started the movement of TNI troops pursuing TPNPB and combing a small village called Taundugu. The series of events culminated in the shooting that killed Pastor Jeremiah Zanambani.

After the shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani, Head of Information for the Joint Defense Region Command III, Col. Czi IGN Suriastawa, made a unilateral statement, saying Pastor Yeremia Zanambani was shot by the TPNPB.

“They are seeking attention at the UN General Assembly later this month,” said Suriastawa.[3]

Suriastawa’s claim was quoted by various media in Jakarta, forming public opinion outside Papua. However, the public in Papua finds it difficult to believe the TNI’s claim that Pastor Yeremia Zanambani was killed by the TPNPB.

Pastor Yeremia Zanambani is a respected religious figure in Papua. He is the former chairman of the Hitadipa Indonesian Bible Tent Church (GKII) class. Until his death, Pastor Yeremia Zanambani also served as chair of the Bible Theology College in Hitadipa, as well as adviser to GKII Region 3 Papua in Hitadipa.

Linguist and translator
He is also a linguist and translator of the Bible scriptures from Indonesian to Moni, the language of the indigenous people in Intan Jaya.

“In the ministry, the Pastor’s daily work is in two churches. The first is in the Bahtera Church congregation in Janamba, the second is in Bulapa. Father also joined the Bible translation team from Indonesian to Moni, so Father often went to Timika or Nabire,” said Mama Miriam.

“Father is also a teacher at the Upper Theological School in Sugapa. Usually, the Father with his family and children in Hitadipa is Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” said Mama Miriam.[4]

A number of human rights advocacy activists and churches are trying to find comparable information about what actually happened in Intan Jaya on September 19, 2020. They received testimony from Hitadipa that the shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani was carried out by TNI soldiers.

The murder was part of a series of violence in Hitadipa since October 25, 2019, when the TPNPB shot dead three motorcycle taxi drivers. Pastor Yeremia Zanambani is the 14th victim of a series of armed conflicts that occurred in Intan Jaya Regency since 25 October 2019.

Since then, until 19 September 2020, at least 10 civilians have died at the hands of the warring parties in Intan Jaya and a total of eight other civilians were wounded. During the same period, a total of four security forces were killed in Intan Jaya.

After the shooting of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani, violence in Intan Jaya continued. Agustinus Duwitau, a catechist from Emondi Station, Timika Diocese Catholic Church, was shot by TNI soldiers on 7 October 2020. Duwitau, who was injured, was then treated in Sugapa.

Another catechist shooting
On 26 October 2020, TNI soldiers shot Rufinus Tigau, a catechist from the Bilogai Parish, the Catholic Church of the Timika Diocese. The shooting that killed Rufinus Tigau took place in Kampung Jalai, Intan Jaya.

The widespread violence that victimised civilians shows that the TNI did not fully control the excesses of their military operations in Intan Jaya.

The legal process for various cases of violence perpetrated by TNI soldiers is also minimal. Of the various cases of violence in Hitadipa, only the burning of the health personnel’s official home in Taundugu has reached the stage of investigation.

The Indonesian Army Military Police Center (Puspomad) named eight Indonesian Army soldiers as suspects in the arson case.[5]

Until early November 2020, hundreds of civilians in Hitadipa district and a number of other districts had fled. Since 19 September 2020, Mama Miriam has never returned to Hitadipa, and has never seen the tomb of her husband, Pastor Jeremiah Zanambani.

“We can’t go back there. We are afraid because there are still TNI there. We want them out so we can go there. We feel threatened, because from the start they have conveyed the language of threat to the church and society,” she said.

“It is now hard for us to go home. Until now, we also don’t know where Father is in the grave,” said Mama Miriam.[6]

“We walked back and forth and didn’t know where to come back. We don’t know, we go home whether we are safe or not.”

Translated from the original Tabloid Jubi article by a special Pacific Media Watch correspondent. Jubi articles are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

[1] Wawancara (Interview), Miriam Zoani, 23 October 2020.


[3], 20 September 2020.

[4] Wawancara (Interview), Miriam Zoani, 23 October 2020.


[6] Wawancara (Interview), Miriam Zoani, 23 October 2020.

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