11/18/2021 Indonesia (International Christian Concern) – A Catholic organization called Catholic Youth has called on Indonesia’s new army chief, General Andika Perkasa, to change the military’s approach to the Papua conflict from militant to humane. The chairman of Catholic Youth, Stefanus Asat Gusma, criticized the ongoing violence between separatist rebels and security forces, commenting that “Repeated violence is causing more unrest and depriving Papuans of a sense of security.”
Papua is in the midst of an immense uprising waged by separatist rebels against security forces. Civilians have long been caught in the crossfire of the Papua conflict between the two groups. In fact, over 60,000 Papuans have been displaced since the dawn of the violence. For example, last month in the Gunung Bintang district, hundreds of houses were destroyed by security forces who claimed they were pursuing the separatists; this displaced hundreds of people, who fled to other places including neighboring Papua New Guinea. In addition to civilian displacements, there is also the broader issue of ongoing violence. According to the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, there were 58 recorded incidents involving soldiers and civilians in Papua between 2017-2021, largely shootings. These incidents killed 69 and injured 135 civilians.
With respect to the military’s handling of the Papua conflict, Gusma, the Catholic Youth chairman, advocated for the security forces to adopt a humane approach to the conflict, particularly by better communicating and familiarizing themselves with tribal and community leaders. He said, “Every soldier who comes from outside Papua must also be equipped with a complete understanding of the anthropological aspects of the region.” He also said that Catholic Youth had identified three issues fundamentally at stake in Papua, namely, a crisis of trust in the government, the pace of infrastructure development, and differences in perception of social issues between Papua and Jakarta.
General Perkasa, the newly appointed army chief, has promised to evaluate how the Indonesian government is responding to the Papua conflict, saying “The approach I want to carry out there is the same as in other areas [of Indonesia], the same as in Java and other places, because Papua’s status is the same as in other regions.”