We might have heard of the most recent news about West Papua: i.e. the hostage of 1,300 people of Kimberli and Banti Village, Tembagapura District, Mimika Regency (near the enormous Grasberg copper-gold mine) by an alleged group of armed criminals was done after an economic improvement in West Papua.
However, another investigation by the police has shown that the hostage was not merely done for the better economy, and the suspects are not an ordinary group of armed criminals as mentioned previously. They are actually part of the National Liberation Army (Indonesian: Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat). What is actually they are after?
The National Liberation Army and its roles in West Papua
Speaking of the National Liberation Army (TPN), we have to look back to the history of how West Papua had always been a conflict area in Indonesia.
Back in 1945, after the declaration of Indonesia’s independence, the Dutch retained West Papua for a variety of reasons. However, Indonesia finally won Irian Jaya (Today is called Papua) back in 1961, and thus in 1969, UN had to intervene and gave West Papuan people two options, whether to stay becoming part of Indonesia or to go independent. Therefore, they took voting and the result was they had to remain as part of the country.
Some nationalists of West Papua who founded the Free Papua Organisation / Movement (Indonesian: Organisasi Papua Merdeka and abbreviated as OPM) in 1965 did not accept the voting result that made them move even further. Not only protests against the Indonesian government, but they also established the National Liberation Army (TPN) as their armed wing in March 1973. Since then, conflicts have been haunting both the locals and the foreigners in West Papua.
Today, the conflicts between the Indonesian government and the separatist movement in West Papua are still going on and getting even worse. Some innocent people had to pay with their lives. As reported by several media, both local and international, two police officers were shot while on duty in November 2017. One of them died while the other was severely injured. In fact, they were not the only victims. During the hostage of more than a thousand civilians in Tembagapura, some of the civilians were sick due to lacking stock of food, some got robbed, some others got shot, and some women were allegedly raped.
Furthermore, based on the most recent data released by the Indonesian National Army (Indonesian: Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI), there had been shootings between 7 August 2017 and 15 November 2017 by some armed criminal groups that were allegedly part of the West Papuan separatist group.
The victims were civilians, police officers, TNI soldiers, and employees of Freeport company. The groups consisted of 35 people who were armed with military standard weapons seized from unknown parties. A hundred other people used traditional weapons such as arrows, assembled weapons, machetes, spears, and so on. There have also been 121 cases reported by some police officers and civilians so far.
Economic development or sovereignty?
Despite what has happened to the innocent civilians in Tembagapura, OPM and TPN claimed that they are not after food or economic improvement, but independence. They even declared war against West Papuans who work with the police and TNI or support the Indonesian government in this matter. It is proven by the fact that no matter what the president Joko Widodo has done for the province (he has made significant efforts to improve Papua’s economic growth, such as building roads, lowering fuel prices, and increasing accesses to education), the separatist movement is still consistently flaring up.
The Free Papua Movement has also made their aims clear through their legal aid team, West Papuan Human Rights Defenders. On their blog site, they published an announcement that they are responsible for protecting the rights of all Papuans, their natural resources, and their political rights to be independent.
What actions should be taken?
In order to release the hostage in Tembagapura, TNI has two different approaches: firstly, by a soft-power approach which emphasizes on emotional aspects such as by involving religious and traditional leaders and as the second approach, TNI has to take the hard-power approach as a firm action in dealing the TPN or OPM
TNI has also decided not to see TPN as an armed criminal group (Indonesian: Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata or abbreviated as KKB) anymore, but also an armed separatist movement that may endanger the country’s sovereignty. According to the Law of the Republic of Indonesia, Number 34, year 2004, regarding TNI’s action in dealing with a separatism threat, the army has the authority to execute framework of Military Operations Besides Wars (Indonesian: Operasi Militer Selain Perang / OMSP).
Last but not least, it is important that the Indonesian government maintain the Republic of Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, protect all the civilians in West Papua from threats and intimidation done by TPN, and make improvement in the welfare of all the people in Papua.