Papua leaders call for Indonesia to withdraw troops

JAYAPURA, Indonesia — Leaders of Indonesia's easternmost Papua region are calling on President Joko Widodo to order the withdrawal of troops and national police from an area where separatists earlier this month carried out one of their deadliest attacks.

Papua province Gov. Lukas Enembe said late Thursday that civilians who fled into the jungle are needlessly suffering. He said the pro-independence fighters are unlikely still in the Nduga area, where a Dec. 2 attack on a trans-Papua highway construction site killed at least 17 workers.

After meeting with members of the provincial parliament and church and tribal leaders, Enembe said Nduga should be free of troops and Indonesian police so residents can celebrate Christmas in peace. The provinces of Papua and West Papua are predominantly Christian regions in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

At the meeting, Papuan officials agreed to set up a task force to investigate the Nduga killings and other violence.

"This is the wish of Papuan people," said Yunus Wonda, head of the Papua parliament, according to local news site TabloidJubi.

"This team is not just for the incident in Nduga. But also for all violence and conflict incidents on the land of Papua which have caused Papuan civilians to be harmed, traumatized or killed," he said.

An insurgency has simmered in Papua since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region that was a former Dutch colony. It was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that many regarded as a sham.

The Indonesian government has rejected rebel demands to hold negotiations on the territory's right to self-determination.

Earlier this week, security minister Wiranto, who uses one name, said there would be no compromise with an organization the government has labeled a criminal group.

"They are not a country, but a group of people who are heretical," he said.

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