Armed conflict in West Papua spreads across new regencies - Indo Govt still rejects peace dialogue

The armed conflict in West Papua has continuously aggravated since December 2018. In the past months, the conflict has spread to the Papuan regencies Yahukimo and Pegunungan Bintang. An armed attack on a military post was also reported from the Maybrat Regency in the Papua Barat Province, which has been almost unaffected by such attacks. Multiple new incidents involving civilian casualties indicate that the armed conflict in the three regencies will deteriorate in the coming weeks. First indications for the spreading of the armed conflict to Yahukimo, Pegunungan Bintang and Maybrat were already observed in May 2021.

The Indonesian Government continues to deploy additional security forces to West Papua to fight the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) instead of seeking a peaceful solution through dialogue. Jakarta’s conflict interventions have not brought any significant change to the long-lasting conflict.  On the contrary, police and military raids have led to an aggravation of the armed conflict and a significant increase in civilian casualties. Thousands of indigenous peoples across multiple regencies have fled their homes in fear of armed clashes and security force violence.

Significant aggravation of armed conflict over past years

Statistic figures on armed conflict indicate that the number of reported armed clashes will have tripled by the end of 2021 compared to 2017. The number of armed clashes rose from 24 in 2017 to 44 clashes in 2018 and 64 in 2020. As of 20 September 2021, the ICP has documented 60 armed clashes across West Papua. The top three hotspots of armed conflict between January and September 2021 were the regencies Puncak with 27 reported armed clashes, followed by Intan Jaya with thirteen reported clashes and the Yahukimo Regency, with seven clashes.

This development is particularly worrying as the conflict has become more violent than in previous years. This observation is based on the increasing number of fatalities among the conflict parties and the significant rise of fatalities among civilians. In total, direct conflict violence cost the lives of 115 civilians between 2018 and September 2021. This figure excludes the number of civilians who have died due to stresses during conflict-related internal displacements. TPN PB fighters and Indonesian security forces were responsible for killing 26 civilians between January and September 2021 alone. In 2020, direct armed conflict had caused the killing of 27 civilians. Both figures are much higher than in previous years. In 2017, the ICP documented an annual number of three such killings.

Despite the significant stresses for the civilian population, the Indonesian Government continues to deploy additional security forces to West Papua, arguing that the security operations are part of a law enforcement process against armed criminal groups and the fight against terrorism. On 20 September 2021, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud MD, stated in a public interview that the police and military "are handling the situation in Papua well". They had taken "well measured actions against the Papuan armed groups".

In the past decade, Jakarta has rejected negotiations with the Papuan independence movement to seek a peaceful solution to the long-lasting conflict.

Attack on a military post and public facilities in Kiwirok, Pegunungan Bintang

On 8 September, TPN PB members burnt bulldozers, and other heavy machinery to construct the Trans-Papua Road works in the Mangabip Village. Shortly after, the TPN PB reportedly launched an attack against a military post (Koramil) in the Kiwirok District, Pegunugan Bintang Regency, on 13 September 2021. According to Indonesian media outlets, TPN PB members burned down public facilities in Kiwirok, including a public health centre (Puskesmas) and a school. Eight health workers and a military member were injured, while one health worker and one TPN PB fighter were killed during the incident. The TPN PB has taken one health worker hostage and announced that he will be released in the coming days.

The national human rights commission (Komnas HAM), NGOs and churches strongly condemned the attack on the health workers and the arson of public facilities. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) stressed that the infliction of violence against civilians or killing civilians is a violation of international law regulating armed combat.  The PGI called upon both sides to stop violence and engage in dialogue to seek a peaceful solution.

Armed attack on a military post in Kisor, Maybrat

The TPN PB claimed responsibility for killing four soldiers in the Kisor Village, Maybrat Regency, during an attack on a military post on 2 September 2021. Two soldiers were seriously injured during the attack. In response to the attack, a security force operation caused the internal displacement of more than 2,086 indigenous villagers in Maybrat from more than 36 villages in five districts have been internally displaced. Sixty-nine IDPs were reported to be below the age of five.

The killing of two road workers in Dekai, Yahukimo

On 22 August 2021, TPN PB members killed two employees of PT Indo Papua near Kribun Village, Dekai District. The bodies were burnt along with the vehicle (see photo, source: Jubi).  Four police officers were injured during a firefight on 23 August 2021 as they evacuated other PT Indo Papua workers from their base camp in the Dekai District.