Police in Indonesia's Papua to investigate alleged killings

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Police in Indonesia’s restive Papua region pledged on Friday to hold an investigation after a local leader said the bodies of five villagers had been found with bullet wounds in an area where there has been a military crackdown.

The village is in the mountainous Nduga area, where the military has been hunting separatist rebels since December, following the killings of 16 construction workers building a highway.

Samuel Tabuni, an Nduga youth leader, said by telephone that villagers suspected the five - three women, a teenage boy and a teenage girl - had been shot by the military. He said the five, whose bodies were found buried under mud and leaves, had been missing since they were out collecting food on Sept. 20.

Papua police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said no reports of missing persons or deaths had been filed, but officers would begin to collect information about the alleged killings.

“We will still begin a process to find out whether there were murders or whether the incident really happened. We hope family members will report to police in Nduga so we can follow up,” Kamal said by telephone.

Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto also said the families of the victims should report the deaths to authorities so that an investigation could be carried out, adding he regretted that the accusation had been made before there was proof.

The Free Papua Movement’s military arm, which claimed responsibility for killing the construction workers, also blamed the Indonesian military in a posting on the group’s Facebook page.

Some 40% of the estimated 100,000 Nduga population had been internally displaced since violence flared in December, Nduga said. He called on Jakarta to withdraw troops from Nduga, while also asking for support from the international community.

“Many thousands of people in Nduga have already fled because of the threat of being killed,” he said. “This is their home, this is where they live - it is the army that needs to leave, not the people who live here.”

There has been a spike in violence since August in Papua, which encompasses Indonesia’s two easternmost provinces on the island of New Guinea. Papua was a Dutch colony before it was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum.

President Joko Widodo recently said he was open to holding talks with Papuan separatists to end the unrest, a departure from the stance of previous governments and some of his cabinet ministers.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson