[Jakarta, 13 July 2022] Since 2018, armed conflict in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost region, has escalated significantly. Indonesian military chief Andika Perkasa has promised a ‘softer’ security approach there. To be effective, however, new measures must do more to stem the flow of funding, weapons and recruits to the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) and protect civilians from both attacks by rebel groups and abuse by security forces.
Escalating Armed Conflict and a New Security Approach in Papua, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), examines the intensification of armed conflict in Papua and offers a constructive evaluation of the government’s counter-insurgency strategy.
“Our data show that since 2018, attacks by the West Papua National Liberation Army (Tentara Nasional Pembebasan Papua Barat, TPNPB) have become more frequent and deadlier, and its activity in the central highlands has expanded to regions that had seen little insurgent violence in the past,” says Deka Anwar, IPAC researcher. “Most importantly, we find that more and more civilians are becoming victims of violence by both sides.”
The single most important factor enabling increased attacks by TPNPB fighters is their ability to acquire more weapons by raiding and stealing from a growing number of army posts, cross-border purchases, and illegal sale of government-issued weapons by rogue security officers.
The government has responded to the deteriorating security situation with ad-hoc deployment of troops from outside Papua and large-scale military operations in heavily populated areas. So far, this strategy has done little to check TPNPB’s growth. Instead, it has resulted in a string of human rights violations, exacerbating already high levels of public resentment.
The TNI chief’s new security approach for Papua seeks to address past failures by reducing reliance on outside troops and building a permanent military presence in the region through local recruitment. But building a positive perception of the military will be difficult unless measures are put in place to improve accountability and training of soldiers stationed in Papua.
“If the new security plan is to have any chance of success, it must focus on protecting civilians by curbing the two most important sources of violence against them,” says Anwar. “The government needs to demonstrate its commitment to ending impunity for past abuses and preventing future harm by security forces. There also needs to be a broader effort to curb the flow of weapons to the TPNPB and protect civilians from increased targeting by armed groups.”