West Papuan elected leaders who criticise Indonesian military operations in Papua province risk prosecution, according to Indonesian security officials.
However humanitarian concern is growing for villagers displaced by conflict between the military and the West Papua Liberation Army in the Highlands .
Johnny Blades reports.
Indonesian military and police operations intensified in the Highlands after the Liberation Army massacred at least 16 road construction workers in Nduga regency three months ago.
As military operations ramped up, thousands of villagers fled to the bush or neighbouring regencies such as Jayawijaya.
The impact of this displacement was seen by Peter Prove, a member of a delegation from the World Council of Churches which was last month permitted to visit Papua.
“And in particular in Wamena we met with a group of more than 400 children and adolescents who were displaced, and who were being provided with refuge in the compound of the Roman Catholic Church there. And we heard very alarming stories about the circumstances under which they had fled from their territory, including indications of a very strong-armed military response.”
The concerned governor of Papua, Lukas Enembe, recently called for Indonesia’s president to withdraw troops to allow villagers to return home and access basic needs.
His call was echoed by local parliamentarians, customary leaders, church and civil society organisations who continue to press for a de-escalation of military operations in the region.
However Indonesia’s military spokesman in Papua, Colonel Muhammad Aidi, warned that the governor had violated state law and should be prosecuted. His words are translated:
“A governor is an extension of the state in the region and is obliged to defend the sovereignty of the republic of Indonesia. A Governor must support all national strategic programs. But on the contrary the Governor through his statement actually inhibited the national development process.”
A West Papuan anthropologist based in Australia, Yamin Kogoya, worries that telling the truth in his homeland has become an act of treason.
He says by practically labelling Governor Enembe a supporter of the Free West Papua Movement, Colonel Aidi has added to the sense of threat over this leading elected official. who is already being investigated by Indonesian anti-corruption investigators
“This is a very, very harsh statement by the military spokesperson in Papua against the governor of Papua province who has every right to express his concerns and worries about the welfare of the people under his care. He never ever expressed publicly that he support the independence of Papua.”
Indonesian police and military posts are common in every town and most villages throughout Papua.
From his observations in the region, Peter Prove says the increasing militarisation and security approach in Papua has only exacerbated the problems there.
“There are many accusations and counter-accusations as to who is responsible for specific instances of violence. But I think the military approach to securing and stabilising the territory evidently hasn’t worked not in terms of improving the human rights situation in the region.”
Meanwhile Colonel Aidi has confirmed an extra 600 military personnel have been deployed to Nduga region to secure the peace for construction of the Trans Papua road to proceed.
But Papuan parliament member Laurens Kadepa has expressed fear that this will only add to the trauma of local communities.
This is Johnny Blades.