West Papua

West Papuan provisional govt takes shape amidst Indonesian crackdown on civilians

Indonesian army hunts, shells and displaces unarmed West Papuan civilians, who are later forced to raise the Indonesian flag in internal refugee life to avoid retaliation. At the same time, the provisional West Papuan Government, led by Benny Wenda, continues to take shape, and mounts political pressure on Indonesia by setting up underground departments to undermine Jakarta’s political credibility.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s latest move is to officially label any West Papuan separatist movements as “terrorists”—while giving green light to nationalists, Jihadists, and “informants” to increase social tensions among civilians in West Papua.

By Klas Lundström

WEST PAPUA In a village in Puncak Jaya Regency, in West Papua’s central highlands, some thirty people sit down for a rest, surrounded by mountains draped in greenery. They sit on the ground, next to a wooden flagpole. At its top is the Indonesian flag attached. Red and white.

The flag’s presence marks more than mere symbolism in today’s West Papua, where much of the population has struggled for independence against the central government in Jakarta for more than sixty years. In this village, the raised Indonesian flag is the civilians’ sole assurance to avoid mistreatment. 

“Indonesian soldiers forced these internally displaced people, who had fled army attacks in their native homes in Gome district, to raise the Indonesian flag to avoid further violence or threats,” a source tells Global Magazine.

Civilians under fire

Puncak Jaya Regency is one of West Papua’s “hotspots,” and people Global Magazine has spoken to bear witness to Indonesian army helicopters firing machine guns at civilians, forced to seek refuge in forests and jungles. 

An increased military operation, out of bounds for foreign reporters and human rights investigators, displayed through social media accounts belonging to Indonesian nationalists. TikTok user “Luksand18” has thus far enjoyed close to five million views of a 30-second-long clip, showing the feverish atmosphere inside the cockpit of an Indonesian attack helicopter, while machineguns fire numerous rounds at seemingly desolated West Papuan greenery. 

It’s a tactic based in humiliation and subservience, per sources Global Magazine has spoken to. It’s about forcing the West Papuan population to complete surrender to Indonesian superiority—something the central government in Jakarta thus far has never come close to achieve, despite West Papua’s widespread poverty, systematic discrimination of West Papuans, environmental destruction, and exploitation of natural resources. 

In accordance with the latest helicopter attacks in Puncak Jaya Regency, civil air traffic were suspended just as Indonesian President Joko Widodo officially gave the military “carte blanche” to seek for and arrest any guerrilla associates involved in the death of a military chief in the Beoga region, on April 25, Suara Papua reported. 

“Terrorist” labeled separatism

Per Suara Papua, one of few locally based and independent West Papuan media outlets, Indonesia has within a short timeframe increased its presence and attacks in Puncak Jaya; a spiral of violence that has added to the already staggering number of West Papuan internally displaced people—a number that has reached over 40,000 since December 2018.

On April 29, Indonesia officially proclaimed its stance on West Papuan separatism, from now on labeled as “terrorism.”

“The government categorizes any Papuan organizations or people committing massive violence as terrorists,” Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD said during a press conference.

“Informants” in place

The Indonesian government’s stand on terrorism and separatism is mirrored by the fact that paramilitary Islamist militias have been given the green light to recruit, manifest, and position themselves for the upcoming “Holy War in West Papua.”

Jihadists have arrived and settled down in West Papua, per sources Global Magazine has spoken to.

“It’s hard to say how many they are since Indonesia doesn’t care. They’re not ‘soldiers,’ but they act in secret ways by becoming taxi drivers, kiosk vendors and motorcycle taxi drivers—but their roles are primarily as ‘informants’ to Indonesian authorities,” one source says.

West Papuans who have taken to social media to debate whether Indonesia’s violence against civilians might be called “state terrorism” are, on the other hand, arrested—accused of “hate speech.” In early April 2021, a 36-year-old man was arrested for an alleged Facebook post.

“Terrorists are, in fact, those who kill civilians, everyday Papuans killed by Indonesian army and police forces,” the Facebook post in question stated, and attributable to “hate speech” per Indonesian prosecutors, Salam Papua reports.

World’s first “Green State”

The latest three years have seen 21,000 dispatched Indonesian soldiers to West Papua. However, alongside Indonesia’s increased military presence in hope of a military solution to the 60-year-old conflict, political pressure is mounting.

In December 2020, a provisional West Papuan government was announced, led by Benny Wenda, an independence activist and politician in exile in London, UK. Now, the provisional government states their formation of a cabinet and departments “in blow to Indonesian rule.”

“Our government departments will cover all aspects of West Papuan life on the ground, from political affairs to justice, the environment to women,” a press release from the provisional government states.

The new cabinet and government departments will prioritize “our natural environment and defend the rights of all living beings in West Papua,” the press release also states. 

“Where the Indonesian occupation brings terrorism, deforestation, and murder, we will bring the world’s first Green State, a beacon for environmental defenders across the planet”—something the provisional West Papuan government can’t achieve singlehandedly.

“Our diplomatic missions around the world will engage with any government or agency willing to support our struggle for self-determination,” the press release states.

Klas Lundström

Reporter Global Magazine