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Papuan Villagers Flee to the Forest to Hide from Fighting

At least 300 villagers have hidden in a forest in the Papua province on Friday. They fled due to the fighting between soldiers and separatists who killed a group of workers building a bridge in the area this month.

Pastor Benny Giay, the head of Papua’s Gospel Tabernacle Church, said that the villagers are cold and hungry after 11 days in the forest.

Indonesian security forces are hunting members of the military wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which claimed responsibility for killing at least 16 workers and a soldier in the Nduga area this month.

The OPM has said it viewed the workers as members of the military and casualties in a war against the government. Jakarta says they were civilians working on the Trans Papua road project to improve connectivity in the impoverished province.

Pastor Giay urged the government to halt construction on the project which has raised tensions in the province. He said he feared a repeat of a 1996 military operation in which civilians, including children, were killed when security forces attacked separatists holding Indonesian and foreign hostages.

President Joko Widodo has pledged to continue building the highway. Since coming to power in 2014, he has tried to ease tensions in Papua by freeing prisoners, addressing some rights concerns and stepping up investment.

Source: Channel News Asia

Photo: United Nations Development Fund

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