Three members of Indonesia National Armed Forces were killed in an ambush by 50-70 West Papuan armed separatist members on Thursday (7/3), 8 a.m. local time. The 25 members of the department were securing the transportation route in Mugi District at the time of the ambush. Their duty is to ensure safety in the completion of Trans Papua infrastructures, spanning 4.330 kilometres and connecting many isolated districts to the main roads in West Papua.
The attack was continuing a series of terror and brutalities by the armed separatists. After murdering 19 civilians, construction workers last December (known as ‘Nduga Massacre’), the group followed through with a threat to kill all non-Papuans in Papua and declaring war on Indonesia. In 2018, the armed separatist launched at least 20 attacks, causing the death of at least 40 people, most of them were civilians.
The separatists also caused public unrests by spreading hoaxes through social media, the newest being a hoax of “bombings” by Indonesian forces. The heavily edited photos of aircrafts and bombs have caused around 1,300 local residents to flee their homes in fear, and now slowly going back home with helps from both the government and non-government organizations.
The cycle of violence from armed separatists in West Papua can be traced back to early 1970s, when the remnants of West Papuan paramilitary group formed by Dutch colonial force were indoctrinated by the Dutch’s unfounded promise of independence.
Sergeant Mirwariyadin, Sergeant Yusdin and Sergeant Siswanto Bayu Aji were killed while being outnumbered by separatist members. The remaining 22 members of Indonesian forces managed to push the enemies back and firmly secured the location, causing 7 to 10 casualties from the armed separatists’ side. The situation is now under control, and all activities have continued.
23-year old Sergeant Yusdin, the youngest mourned member of the force, was freshly deployed to Papua less than two weeks ago. Coming from a poor family in South Celebes, he was the main breadwinner for his four younger siblings. A Facebook status was written by Yusdin’s girlfriend, Atik Candrawaty, who seemingly stayed strong after the devastating news. “Rest well, my shoulders will always be there for you”, she wrote after uploading a photo of Sergeant Yusdin leaning his head on her left shoulder.
Political Motive Behind Attacks
Yesterday’s attack happened only five weeks before the election, the biggest democratic event in Southeast Asia by the fourth most populated country in the world. By escalating the conflict, as well as raising the number of casualties as high as possible, it is highly likely that the armed separatists are making the most publicity out of Indonesian political climate.
The armed separatists are also in a political conflict with the West Papua separatist lobby group, ULMWP, which persists in bringing West Papuan separatist agenda to the United Nations. ULMWP brought a petition claimed to contain 1.8 million of West Papuan signatures, to request for a chance of holding a referendum. The petition was brought during an unrelated session at the human rights council, by the delegation of Vanuatu (25/1). Until now, there is a major doubt on the authenticity of the petition, especially with the lack of documentations regarding the claimed signatures.
Development and Human Rights in West Papua
The construction of Trans Papua roads and bridges is a big part of government policies to accelerate development and improve living conditions in West Papua. Government also had allocated US$520 million of special autonomy fund in 2018, outside the national and regional budget.
Since given the special autonomy status in 2001, shortly after the end of Suharto’s militaristic regime, development as an inalienable human right has been the focus for the government: constructing 48 airports, 15 seaports, 1,093 health centers, 115 hospitals, and electrified 72.04% of the area. In 2018, Indonesia made a major breakthrough by vastly improving availability of oil fuels across Papua, lowering the local fuel price by 75%.
Special autonomy gives several privileges for native Papuans. Only natives are eligible to be governors, mayors, regents, and all public office positions. All companies operating in West Papua are also obliged to employ native Papuans as 70% of their workforce. since the two provinces achieved the highest HDI growth in Indonesia, exceeding the national average of 0.89%.
A recent visit by World Council of Churches/WCC to Papua in February 2019 concluded that there has been a major improvement in foreign access to West Papua. WCC director Peter Prove stated that Indonesian national ideology, Pancasila, could be a foundation for peaceful dialogue during a side event at the Human Rights Council, United Nations, Geneva (7/3).