Struggle continues for West Papua
JAKARTA - After eight months of the armed conflict between Indonesian security forces and West Papuan pro-independence fighters in Papua’s central highlands, there’s no end in sight to the struggles of the indigenous communities displaced by the fighting.
It’s estimated that over 45,000 people have been displaced from their homes in remote Nduga regency since a deadly attack on road construction workers by the West Papua Liberation Army sparked an escalation of the conflict last December. That massacre was followed by a large pursuit operation by Indonesian forces who have left few stones unturned to hunt down the Papuan guerilla fighters.
Fleeing from the ensuing bouts of fighting and raids, displaced villagers have sought refuge in neighbouring parts of Nduga or other regencies such as Yahukimo, Asmat, Lanny Jaya, Puncak and Jayawijaya. Away from their own land and gardens, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are struggling to meet basic needs, and living in appalling makeshift conditions.
The poor living conditions faced by IDPs in various temporary abodes, for instance the 700 schoolaged children in Wamena, should not be lost on national leaders.
So far government has largely been ineffective in alleviating their plight. Neither central nor local government has found a way to end the conflict, to provide humanitarian aid to the displaced, or restore secured living conditions in Nduga.
Given the negligence of the armed conflict and those it displaces, the central government displays a form of political discriminations towards Papuans. Political conflict between the Indonesian central government and Papuans who aspire to independence is highly sensitive. It may account for why there has been no clarification by government on the status of the Papua conflict since the counterinsurgency operation kicked off in early December 2018.
Secondly, the state does not officially recognise the IDPs. Meanwhile, according to the aid group Solidarity Team for Nduga, at least 182 people from Nduga have died of famine and disease in displacement camps. Indonesia’s Law No.7 of 2012 on the Management of Social Conflicts is based on horizontal conflicts, not vertical or asymmetrical ones, such as those questioning Indonesia’s sovereignty and legitimacy in a territory in Papua and West Papua Provinces.
Although the 2012 law does not cover the Papuan context with its political and armed factors in its definition of social conflict, the law still acknowledges the presence of IDPs. Hence, the government should clarify the status of the conflict and recognise the plight of the Nduga IDPs. By doing so, the government could terminate the conflict, and provide necessary supplies as well as trauma-healing services to the IDPs.
As long as the government maintains its narrow explanation of the conflict as a criminal operation to inform the Indonesian military and police pursual of pro-independence fighters, the conflict will continue.
The conflict has political, economic, and cultural aspects generally overlooked by the Indonesian government and its security officers. Initially, the central government denied the presence of IDPs since they claimed that most of the displaced Nduga people have been living with their families in Wamena. In that way, it is difficult to categorise them as IDPs.
Even the regional Cendrawasih military command stated that there is no internal displacement, but a typical migration.
Emergency temporary school for displaced Papuan children in Wamena.
Inset: The Humanity Volunteer Team of Nduga has been helping communities displaced by armed conflict in Papua’s Nduga regency with food, health and education needs in Wamena.