Jayapura, Papua. More than three weeks after gunmen strafed an incoming flight at the Mulia airstrip in Papua, airlines are still not flying to the destination, with police on Monday urging them to resume their services.
The attack on the Trigana Air Twin Otter airplane on April 8 left one passenger dead and four others injured, including the pilot and co-pilot.
On Monday, the Papua Police and the province’s transportation office summoned several airlines that usually serve the Mulia airport, including Trigana Air, Susi Air, Yajasi and the Missionary Aviation Fellowship, to discuss the aviation situation there.
“There has been no agreement yet,” said Bambang Siswanto, the head of the Papua Transportation Office. “The airlines are still scared to fly to Mulia, although there has been an assurance from the security institutions.”
The airline representatives could not come to an agreement at the meeting and said they needed to report back to their headquarters first, he said.
He added that he hoped the airlines would soon resume flights to Mulia as the highland town depended on air links for its logistics supply.
“We’re all hoping the airlines resume their flights to Mulia as a service to the population there,” he said.
As a security measure, Bambang’s office has cleared bushes from the area surrounding the airport. The plan is to eventually fence off the airport, especially the runways, in a bid to prevent unauthorized access.
Trigana Air cargo manager Murwantoro said the company was still focused on repairing the airplane that had been shot.
“This morning we sent four technicians to Mulia, but there is not yet any certainty as to when the repairs will be completed,” he said.
Trigana has three airplanes in Papua, he added.
“We have only two [working] units of airplanes left, and so far they are focused on serving pioneer lines to Timika, and we’re still bound by a one-year contract,” Murwantoro said.
He added that the company could not yet say when it would resume flying to Mulia.
Meanwhile, Papua Police Chief Insp. Gen. Bigman Lumban Tobing said he believed the shooting on April 8 was political but declined to elaborate.
“We tried to call on the flight operators to fly again to Mulia by providing them with security guarantees,” he said of the meeting with airline representatives.
“The people really need the flights, especially to carry essentials and fuel.”
However, he added that police could not force the airlines to resume their services.
Police have set up several permanent security outposts around the airport, he said, as well as the surrounding hills, where snipers could operate.
Brig. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw, Bigman’s deputy, said security at and around the Mulia airport had not been very tight before the attack but was more secure now.
“We think there are no longer any loopholes for the unidentified group to conduct their actions,” Paulus said.
“The joint forces on duty there are quite strong, at 25 personnel, and this can be further reinforced once the flights resume.”
Yunus Wonda, chairman of Papua’s legislative council, called on the unidentified groups to stop their terrorist actions, which he said only hurt the public.
“Halt all activities that disturb security, order and comfort in Mulia,” he said.
“Violence is not the solution; it will only end up sacrificing innocent people.”