JAYAPURA CITY - The Indonesian Military (TNI) began a search on Tuesday for five missing fishermen off the coast of Papua after soldiers from neighboring Papua New Guinea allegedly torched their boat and ordered the men to swim to shore.
“Fifty personnel have been deployed for the rescue and they will be helped by the five fishermen who managed to rescue themselves,” Merauke Marine Security Unit commander Brig. Gen. Buyung Lalana told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.
“We do not involve the PNG soldiers because they are the ones who have caused these fishermen to go missing by setting their boat on fire and ordering them to swim across the sea.”
The details of the incident were still sketchy on Tuesday, but Indonesian officials in PNG said they were seeing clarification from government officials. The Indonesian embassy in Port Morsby has asked the government to assist in the search and rescue operation.
“The incident happened in the Western province, so we have asked an official explanation from the PNG government about how their soldiers treated our fishermen,” said Jahar Goeltom, the Indonesian consular official for Sandaun province. “We have asked PNG to help search for the missing fishermen because they could be stranded in PNG.”
According to preliminary reports, 10 Papuan fishermen decided to head to Kadawa, in neighboring PNG, to purchase sea cucumbers on Feb. 6. The men stopped by a TNI post in Torasi to have their travel documents checked. But when they neared Karu, PNG, the fishing boat was intercepted by three speed boats carrying soldiers from PNG.
The soldiers reportedly forced the fishermen to anchor at a small island at gunpoint. The soldiers then allegedly looted the boat, stealing fuel and cash before setting the vessel on fire.
The fishermen were told to swim back to Papua, a distance of several kilometers. Five fishermen made it to shore. The other five never made it.
The survivors reported the incident to officials at the TNI post in Torasi.
“We are still waiting for the official clarification from PNG government on why they treated our citizens that way,” Jahar said. ”It was an ultimate violation of the border meeting agreement and the international marine law.”
The incident prompted protests from Indonesian politicians. Deerd Tabuni, chairperson of the Papua House of Representatives, called the incident an inhumane act and a serious human rights violation.
‘We can classify the soldiers as armed robbers,’ Deerd said.
Papuan fishermen often traded in the area and have been known to carry proper documents, he said. If these fishermen were found in violation of PNG law they should have been processed under the requirements of the law.
“They could have followed the legal procedure and treated the fishermen in a humane way,” Deerd said. “We could have used a diplomatic method to resolve the matter.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa declined to comment on the issue on Tuesday. [TheJakartaGlobe]