Several hundred villagers have killed 292 crocodiles at a breeding ground in Indonesia’s impoverished West Papua province in retaliation for the death of a resident.
International media access to West Papua is heavily restricted and the story might only have leaked out because it reflects poorly on Papuans themselves, rather than detailing the oppressive Indonesian occupation of the ethnically distinct region.
The villagers descended in the site after the funeral of a 48-year-old man who was killed near the breeding pond, said Basar Manullang, the Natural Resources and Conservation Agency chief.
The man was believed to have entered the sanctuary in Sorong district to take grass for his livestock.
“An employee heard someone screaming for help, he quickly went there and saw a crocodile attacking someone,” Manullang said. “Since killing the crocodiles is illegal, we are coordinating with the police for the investigation.
“Crocodiles are God’s creatures that need to be protected too.”
Photographs showed a large pile of bloodied carcasses.
The agency said the villagers had machetes, hammers, shovels and other weapons and killed two large crocodiles of up to four metres long.
He said the farm had been granted a licence in 2013 to breed and harvest protected saltwater and New Guinea crocodiles for preservation. One of the conditions was that the creatures did not threaten residents, Manullang said.
“To prevent this from happening again, farming licence holders need to secure the surrounding areas,” he added.
Witnesses said about 40 police officers were unable to stop the mob.
Police said they were encouraging mediation between the victim’s family and Mitra Lestari Abadi, the company which operates the sanctuary.
Split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua, the sprawling region has some of Asean’s most valuable natural resources, but the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest.
Rights groups have reported arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, official corruption, rigged elections and abuse by the security services.
“They are using colonial laws to arrest people in modern, democratic Indonesia,” said Calum Hyslop, an Australian observer. “They fail to understand the difference between freedom of speech and real acts of armed separatism.”
Pro-independence activists have been tortured, murdered or disappeared, without arrests or prosecutions.
A West Papuan from Nduga regency, Samuel Tabuni, said young people were leaving the area amid a new wave of violence.
There have been a series of deaths in Nduga where Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have recently exchanged gunfire.
Speaking from the provincial capital, Jayapura, Tabuni said thousands were fleeing the regency since violence surged during June’s election to avoid Indonesian military operations.
Since late 2017, West Papuan separatists have intensified hostilities against the Indonesian security forces in Tembagapura and in the surrounding Papuan highlands.
The revenge killing of crocodiles. Picture credit: YouTube