Indonesia’s top intelligence official in Papua Province was a one-star general who did not believe in leading from his office. A Bali native, Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha rose through the ranks of Indonesia’s feared special forces and often went on patrol with troops in areas where separatist rebels were known to stage attacks.
“Ambushes and gunfights are common,” said Wawan Hari Purwanto, a spokesman for the State Intelligence Agency. “But he always chose to be at the front in every patrol and observation, including in gunfights. He didn’t want to be just behind a desk.”
On Sunday, General Danny, 51, walked into his final ambush. He was shot and killed near a church in remote Dambet Village in Papua’s central highlands. Now, human rights activists fear that President Joko Widodo’s call for a strong response to the general’s death may prompt harsh reprisals against the Indigenous population in Indonesia’s easternmost province.
In announcing the killing on Monday, Mr. Joko called on the army and the police to hunt down and arrest every member of the group responsible for the general’s death. General Danny was the first general to die in action in Indonesia’s history, an army spokesman said.
“I emphasize that there is no place for armed criminal groups in Papua or any other part of the country,” Mr. Joko said during a brief appearance, flanked by Vice President Ma’ruf Amin and the heads of the army, the police and the State Intelligence Agency.
The West Papua National Liberation Army, a separatist group that has carried out other attacks in the area, claimed responsibility for the general’s death. No one else was reported injured in the ambush.
The territory of Papua takes up the western half of the island of New Guinea. It was occupied and annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s, but many Indigenous Papuans favor independence and separatist groups have been waging a low-level insurgency campaign for decades.
The territory is rich in natural resources. Indonesia, often in partnership with foreign companies, has long extracted copper, gold, timber and natural gas from the two provinces, Papua and West Papua, that make up the region.
Officials provided few details of the afternoon ambush and ensuing gunfight in Beoga District. General Danny went with a relatively small unit of soldiers and police officers to Dambet Village, according to intelligence officials.
The village is in an area where rebels recently killed two teachers and a teenager, claiming that they were working for Indonesia’s security forces as spies, according to news reports.
A spokesman for the insurgent group said the general had been struck by a stray bullet, according to a local news outlet. There was no further explanation.
The ambush took place about 20 miles northeast of the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine, a symbol of the exploitation of Papua’s natural resources by foreign interests. Operated for decades by the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan, it was taken over in 2018 by an Indonesian state-owned company.
Mr. Wawan, the intelligence agency spokesman, said that the ambush had not resulted from an intelligence failure and that the general had been well aware of the risks.
“To die in the line of duty is a matter of the highest pride,” he said.
In a statement on Monday announcing General Danny’s death, the intelligence agency said it “continues to improve early detection and early prevention” of attacks by violent groups in Papua. The general’s visit was made in “an effort to increase the morale and spirit of the people who have been disturbed by the cruelty and savagery of the Papuan separatist and terrorist group,” the statement said.
The agency called the intelligence chief a “national hero” who died “defending the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia” and said he was posthumously promoted to the rank of major general.
Before taking the intelligence agency post, General Danny served with the elite special forces unit, Kopassus, which for decades has been accused of abuses and atrocities against Indigenous Papuans. In 2003, seven Kopassus soldiers were convicted in the murder of the prominent independence leader, Theys Eluay.
Human rights activists said the impending crackdown could prompt retaliation against Indigenous people.
“Human rights defenders are really worried,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights attorney and activist based in Australia who follows events in Papua. “We can already see that an additional military operation is coming to Papua because of this killing.”