182 reportedly die while seeking refuge in Nduga conflict

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Ardila Syakriah

Volunteers grouped under the Nduga Solidarity Civil Society Coalition reported in a statement on Thursday the deaths of 182 civilians who were taking refuge in various areas after fleeing from their homes in conflict-ridden Nduga regency between December and July.

They allegedly died from famine and other illnesses due to poor living conditions in the shelters after fleeing from their homes in the middle of a security conflict in the regency. The civilians were forced to escape the ongoing security operations against armed rebels linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) following the latter's killing of dozens of construction workers in Nduga in December.

The coalition previously reported on July 18 that 139 internally displaced people had died while seeking refuge, a figure rejected and claimed by the government as a "hoax". The government soon released its version of the death toll, citing that only 53 displaced people had died.

The claim prompted the group to verify its data with the help of the Papua Justice and Welfare Foundation (YKKMP), Kingmi church and Papuan People Assembly in Nduga by also involving the displaced, resulting in a higher fatality number than previously collected.

YKKMP director Theo Hesegem said the fatalities were recorded in several Nduga districts, such as Yigi, Mbua, Inikggal and Nirkuri, and also neighboring regencies, including Jayawijaya, Lani Jaya and Timika. Some of them also died while taking refuge in forests, he said.

"The alleged causes of death are famine because there was no food in the forests, and exposure to cold weather," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

The group is also looking for a toddler who went missing after her mother, identified as Kenmalet Gwijangge, 26, was allegedly shot dead in an armed conflict between the military and rebels on July 4 in Mugi district.

Theo said the YKKMP and representatives from the Kingmi church had requested a ceasefire between the military and rebels in Mugi so that they could conduct a search for the toddler.

Cendrawasih Military Command spokesman Lt. Col. Eko Daryanto said he had yet to look into information regarding the missing toddler, adding that the military had yet to receive any updates regarding the death toll as reported by the coalition.

"There might also be differences in the perception or data regarding the cause of deaths [between different parties]," he said.

According to the coalition, tens of thousands of civilians had fled from their homes in Nduga to the forests and neighboring regencies, with some remaining in various districts in Nduga.