Home Info Why The Papuan Separatist Group was Divided from Its Beginning

Why The Papuan Separatist Group was Divided from Its Beginning


The Beginning

The West Papuan armed separatist group (locally known as Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) is an umbrella term for different secessionist groups in Papua. The organization was divided from the very beginning.

The embryo of the organization was established in 1964, with an armed volunteer group called Papua Vrijwilligers Korps (PVK) as their military personnel. PVK was a unit created by the Dutch colonial government during their occupation in West Papua. After the signing of New York agreement which handed full sovereignty to Indonesia by the United Nations, PVK was disbanded by the Indonesian government. The ex-members of PVK then joined the West Papuan separatist movement, calling themselves OPM.

The Hunger for Power

In order to organize the armed separatism, a headquarter called “Victoria” was built in Waris District, now Keerom District, Papua. Four men from the Victoria headquarter then became the main influence of the separatist group. Those four men were Seth J Roemkorem, Jacob Prai, John Otto Ondawame, and Rex Rumakiek.

On 1st of July 1971, the Victoria headquarter declared West Papuan independence with Seth Roemkorem as the interim president. Five years later, the separatist group got divided over clashing interests. Jacob Prai believed that Seth was only chasing after his own ambitions and being power-hungry. Jacob and his loyalists then quitted the Victoria headquarter and established another separatist movement, called “Pemka”. Following the split, the separatists are identified either as “Victoria” separatists and “Pemka” separatists.

The internal issues of this separatist movement was analyzed by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). According to the research, tribes from the northern part of West Papua tend to join Seth and his Victoria group, while the southerners tend to join Jacob Prai and the Pemka group.

The experts believe that unity in OPM is an impossible thing to happen, since the loyalty of Papuan separatists will always be higher towards their clans and ethnicities, putting the interest of their political separatist groups in lower priority. There has been a clear competition between clans to lead not only the armed separatist groups, but also the political organizations.

Ideological Differences

Another aspect which divided the movement in disunity was ideological differences between the older and newer generations. The older generation such as Markus Kaisiepo, Nicolaas Jouwe, and Herman Womsiwor were into classical European liberalism, while the younger ones like Ben Tanggahama, Saul Hindom, and Jacob Prai were neo-Marxists.

Some of the members of the separatist group also had affinity for the Dutch colonial government, while some others did not. In the 1970s, due to Indonesian military operations against the armed separatist rebel group, many high officials of the movement fled to Netherland, and some others to countries such as England, United States, Australia, and others. Those who were close to the Dutch government went to follow the Dutch officials who went home the moment United Nations gave full legitimacy over Papua to Indonesia in 1969.

Competition Among The Groups

1. WPNA (West Papua Nasional Authority) was created in 2004 as an effort to unite all political separatist groups into one. The founders were Edison Waromi, Jacob Rumbiak, and Herman Wainggai.

2. WPNCL (West Papua National Coalition for Liberation) was established by a Pemka group officer, Otto Ondowame, in Vanuatu, 2005. Mathias Wenda was appointed as the president, but two influential separatist figure did not agree to making WNPCL the political organization of the rebel movement. Those two figures were Goliat Tabuni and Kelly Kwalik, who championed the violent way of guerilla warfare for independence via the OPM armed group. Kelly murdered 8 mountaineers in 1986 as a threatening gesture, and kidnapped 26 scientists in 1996, afterwhich Indonesian military managed to rescue them. In 2009, Kelly was shot dead by the Indonesian force while in his runaway.

3. The Free West Papua Campaign, established by Benny Wenda in England, 2000. Benny was born in Wamena, Papua. He was suspected for plotting the murder of two policemen in Abepura, and managed to escape prison. He seeked for political asylum in United Kingdom and resides there until now.

4. KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat) was established as a radical, political organization in 2008, with Victor Yeimo as its leader since 2012. In May 2012, KNPB tried to initiate cooperation with the OPM armed group by holding a meeting in Biak, Papua. KNPB appointed Goliat Tabuni as supreme leader, but Tabuni himself was not interested, and more focused to his armed criminal group.

5. ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was created on December 6th 2014 by WPNA, WPNCL, and KNPB, with Benny Wenda as the spokesperson. In 2017, Benny Wenda was elected as the leader of this organization, and he established a physical office of ULMWP in Vanuatu. This move was regarded by some ULMWP members as a malicious, ill-intended move, and seen as Wenda’s ambition to create a transitional government outside Papua for his own personal interest. One of the important members of ULMWP, Leonie Tanggahma, decided to quit the ULMWP board. She is a daughter of Ben Tanggahma, a Papuan separatist of the older generation. This split has caused division between the Papuan separatist supporters, once again.

Image: Seth Roemkorem and Jacob Prai (Source: John RG Djopari)

What Now?

The spokesperson of the armed separatist group OPM, Sebby Sambom, mentioned Goliat Tabuni as their supreme leader. The group was responsible for the murder of 19 Trans Papua road construction workers on December 2nd this year. Nonetheless, there are still Benny Wenda, Goliat Tabuni, Jacob Rumbiak, and few other names who differed in their views on West Papua. There is no one single West Papuan identity, but there will always be Papua as a part of one Indonesia.

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