JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian paramilitary police fatally shot a woman in what they said was a clash with stone-throwing villagers in the troubled Papua region, but a relative of the victim disputed their account of events.
Police said in a statement Monday that the 61-year-old woman was among villagers who intervened to help an 18-year-old man who jumped out of a boat to escape custody after being detained on suspicion of theft.
The statement said police fired warning shots during the clash with villagers on Saturday. The woman died from a gunshot to the head, police said. A cousin of the dead woman said that there was no clash and that she was shot as an innocent bystander when police fired on the escaping suspect.
In a separate statement, Papua police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said seven officers were being questioned by the police internal affairs unit in connection with the incident.
Conflicts between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian security forces are common in the impoverished region, which Indonesia annexed more than half a century ago.
Police said the 18-year-old was one of three people suspected of stealing ore concentrate in Mimika district from the cargo dock of U.S. mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which operates the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine in Papua, and was captured after a hunt by police, security guards and navy officers.
The handcuffed man jumped out of the speedboat he was being transported in on Saturday evening and villagers from a nearby island came to his aid and prevented him from being apprehended again, according to police.
Cornelia Emakefaro, the cousin of the victim, said the woman and her husband were in a small boat on an errand to fetch fresh water when the woman was hit by police gunfire after the theft suspect jumped into the water.
"Based on information from my cousin's husband as the only witness and the village head, there was no attack from villagers to the officers," Emakefaro said. "We understand they are carrying out the task of catching suspects who may have been involved in the theft, but they are not entitled to shoot people like chasing game animals."
In September, Indonesian police demoted two officers who fired at a crowd of protesting Papuan villagers, killing one man, in a decision that rights groups said was too lenient and showed a chronic lack of accountability for abuses in Papua.
This story has been corrected to show that the woman's age was 61, not 60.