Papuan mistrust poses a big challenge to the Indonesian military
One day in 1969, shortly after it was decided that Papua would become part of Indonesia, Yones Douw’s family was forced to flee from security forces.
It came after his uncle, Mika Kayame, was shot dead in Paniai by Indonesian security forces, who accused the teacher of spying for the Netherlands following a referendum called the Act of free choice which saw 1,025 men and women vote unanimously for Indonesian control in Papua. .
“My uncle’s body was dumped in a ravine in Totouda, Paniai. My father was with him at the time. As my father was carrying a Bible, he was allowed to leave, but the military told him he would be picked up in the afternoon,” he told UCA News.
Because his father, now 82, a Protestant pastor, knew he could suffer the same fate, he and his family fled.
One-year-old Douw and his five-month-old sister with their parents crossed Lake Paniai to reach their parents’ home village in Dogiyai district.
The experience and the violence that followed made him fight for the rights of Papuans. “Since childhood we have been living under the army. The situation is not getting better but getting worse,” he said.
Under the Nemangkawi approach, 67,000 Papuans have been displaced. How many more will be victims of this new policy?
Indonesian military operations in Papua began in 1961 when the region was still under Dutch control and continues to this day amid continued resistance from separatists such as the West Papua National Liberation Army.
Youw is pessimistic about a new military and police plan to change tactics in their fight against the rebels, moving from a tough and confrontational “Nemangkawi” approach adopted in 2018 to softer and more peaceful means.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said recently that the security forces “will use a soft approach [towards civilians] more” but will remain tough on rebel groups.
He said the troops were being prepared for the new role in Jakarta before being deployed to remote parts of Papua to show local people how to grow crops, raise livestock and educate children.
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Under the plan, 3,000 Papuans will be recruited into the police and army this year.
For Douw and other activists and observers, instead of making Papua a better place, this policy will not change anything because the essence is the same: more troops in Papua.
“Under the Nemangkawi approach, 67,000 Papuans have been displaced. How many more will fall victim to this new policy? He asked.
According to a report by Papuan People’s Solidarity Against State Violence, around 307 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the implementation of the Nemangkawi plan in 2018.
Father Bernard Baru, chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Augustinian Order in Papua, said military involvement in civil affairs was counterproductive because years of violence suffered by Papuans at his hands had left them left scared and traumatized.
He worries about the military getting involved in civilian affairs such as education. “I fear they are brainwashing children rather than giving them knowledge.”
Father John Bunay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, agreed.
“Why aren’t civilian matters such as teaching and raising cattle left to more capable people? The duty of the military and police is to maintain security. Being a teacher, for example, doesn’t it require properly trained teachers?” He asked.
Made Supriatma, a researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore who specializes in Indonesian security and military issues, said the new policy looked like an attempt to pit Papuans against themselves .
“Papuans loyal to Indonesia will be opposed to the Free Papua Organization and anti-Indonesian native Papuans,” he told UCA News, alluding to the recruitment of native Papuans to become police and soldiers.
Those they call separatists or rebels are people who have the legitimate right to express opinions and disapprove of Indonesia
Father Baru said the failure of many previous military operations should be reason enough to look for other solutions.
“For us, the clear solution is to open up dialogue and treat people as dignified human beings,” he said.
Referring to often-expressed concerns that the dialogue could lead to Papua separating from Indonesia, he said: “We will first resolve the issues that are pushing Papuans to separate.”
Supriatma said the Papua issue is a political issue that needs to be resolved through negotiations.
“Those they call separatists or rebels are people who have a legitimate right to express opinions and disapprove of Indonesia,” he said.
“So, [one solution is] negotiations by recognizing Papuan separatist organizations and Papuan resistance organizations as negotiating partners”.
Supriatma, a Catholic, said religious institutions such as the Catholic Church should play a bigger role in finding a peaceful solution, but on condition that they do not blindly defend nationalism as it deals with issues of justice and human dignity.
He said there was a need to assess the slogan “100% Catholic, 100% Indonesian”, which Catholic Church officials often invoke when the state commits serious human rights abuses in Papua.
For Father Baru, if a path is taken with the wrong approach, it will be impossible to have peace in Papua.
“There are only two possibilities: Papuans will die because they are being killed constantly or the armed resistance movement will grow stronger,” he said.
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