Indonesian general killed in rebel ambush in Papua
The main Indonesian intelligence official in the province of Papua was a one-star general who did not believe in leading from his office. Originally from Bali, Brig. General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha rose through the ranks of the dreaded Indonesian Special Forces and often went on patrol with troops in areas where separatist rebels were known to carry out attacks.
“Ambushes and shootings are common,” said Wawan Hari Purwanto, spokesman for the state intelligence agency. “But he always chose to be at the front in every patrol and observation, including shootings. He didn’t want to be right behind a desk.
General Danny, 51, entered his latest ambush on Sunday. He was shot and killed near a church in the remote village of Dambet in the central highlands of Papua. Now, human rights activists fear that President Joko Widodo’s call for a firm response to the general’s death could lead to severe reprisals against the indigenous population in Indonesia’s easternmost province.
In announcing Monday’s murder, Mr. Joko called on the military and police to track down and arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. General Danny was the first general to die in combat in Indonesian history, an army spokesperson said.
“I stress that there is no place for armed criminal groups in Papua or any other part of the country,” Joko said in a brief appearance, alongside Vice President Ma’ruf Amin and heads of the military, police and the State Intelligence Agency.
The West Papua National Liberation Army, a separatist group that carried out further attacks in the area, claimed responsibility for the general’s death. No one else was reported injured in the ambush.
The territory of Papua occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea. It was occupied and annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, but many indigenous Papuans are in favor of independence and separatist groups have waged a low-level insurgency campaign for decades.
The territory is rich in natural resources. Indonesia, often in partnership with foreign companies, has a long history of extracting copper, gold, timber and natural gas from the two provinces, Papua and West Papua, which make up the region.
Officials provided some details of the afternoon ambush and the subsequent shooting in Beoga district. General Danny traveled with a relatively small unit of soldiers and police to the village of Dambet, intelligence officials said.
The village is in an area where rebels recently killed two teachers and a teenager, claiming they worked for the Indonesian security forces as spies, according to media reports.
A spokesperson for the insurgent group said the general was hit by a stray bullet, local media reported. There was no other explanation.
The ambush took place about 20 miles northeast of the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine, a symbol of the exploitation of Papua’s natural resources by foreign interests. Operated for decades by the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan, it was taken over in 2018 by an Indonesian state-owned company.
Mr Wawan, the spokesperson for the intelligence agency, said the ambush was not the result of an intelligence failure and the general was well aware of the risks.
“Dying in the line of duty is a matter of the greatest pride,” he said.
In a statement released Monday announcing the death of General Danny, the intelligence agency said it “continues to improve the early detection and early prevention” of attacks by violent groups in Papua. The general’s visit was made in “an effort to boost the morale and spirit of people who have been disturbed by the cruelty and savagery of the Papuan separatist and terrorist group,” the statement said.
The agency called the intelligence chief a “national hero” who died “defending the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia” and said he was posthumously promoted to the rank of major general.
Prior to taking up the post of intelligence agency, General Danny served in the elite Special Forces unit, Kopassus, which for decades has been accused of abuse and atrocities against the native Papuan. In 2003, seven Kopassus soldiers were convicted of the murder of the eminent independence leader, Theys Eluay.
Human rights activists have said the impending crackdown could lead to reprisals against indigenous peoples.
“Human rights defenders are really worried,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian lawyer and human rights activist based in Australia who has been monitoring events in Papua. “We can already see that an additional military operation is coming to Papua because of this murder.”