(Jakarta, 24 August 2015) The resilience of the pro-independence movement in Papua—now fifty years old--suggests the government should focus on avoiding further radicalisation rather than trying to eradicate it.
The Current Status of the Papuan Pro-Independence Movement, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), examines the aims, capacity, leadership and activities of both the armed units of the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) and the various political groupings supporting independence in Papua and abroad. It notes that while President Jokowi has made Papua a particular focus of his administration, policies aimed at improving welfare, while welcome on their own terms, will not necessarily dampen pro-independence sentiment.
“Instead of focusing on how to weaken the independence movement, the government should focus on how to avoid strengthening it,” says Cillian Nolan, IPAC’s deputy director. “One of the most urgent needs is to invest in better policing so that Papuans are not alienated by their encounters with security forces.”
The report looks at in detail at the state of the armed OPM, a highly decentralised collection of autonomous units, the most active of which are concentrated in the central highlands. Divided by clan, geography and personal rivalries, it has never constituted a serious military threat to the Indonesian state, but neither is it going to go away. Individual commanders maintain a wary co-existence with local Papuan officials and state security forces, who rarely engage them militarily.
Security forces have focused more on cracking down on mostly the political organisations that are largely but not entirely non-violent, particularly the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB). They view these groups as a greater danger because of their ability to mobilise crowds, ties to the small Papuan diaspora and efforts to attract international support, even though historically, the groups have been more rivals than allies.
In December 2014, the three major diaspora-led organisations came together to form the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). Their goal was to secure membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, an association of Pacific island nations. The coalition was eventually given observer status, and it remains to be seen whether the temporary unity in quest of a short-term goal will lead to improved coordination within Papua.
“The task for the Jokowi government now is to address the factors that exacerbate anti-Jakarta feelings, including ineffective policing, impunity for security forces, weak and fragmented local government and undermining of local customary institutions,” says Nolan. “President Jokowi may find that separatism is best managed by not trying to destroy it."