Indonesia Classifies Papuan Rebels as Terrorist Group

Ronna Nirmala and Tria Dianti
Indonesia Classifies Papuan Rebels as Terrorist Group Police honor guards stand by the coffin of one of their officers in Mimika, Indonesia, a day after he was killed in a gunbattle between police and separatist rebels in the Papua region, April 28, 2021.

Indonesia designated Papuan separatist rebels as a terrorist group Thursday after they killed an army general, a policeman and four civilians this month, but observers warned the move could inflame tensions and lead to human rights abuses.

 Violence by separatist insurgents in the Papua region fit the definition of terrorism under amendments to the country’s anti-terror law that were passed in 2018, said Mohammad Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

“We are treating organizations and people who commit massive violence in Papua as terrorists,” Mahfud told a news conference as he announced the designation.

“This is in accordance with the law No. 5 of 2018 which ... defines terrorism as an act of violence or threat that creates an atmosphere of terror and widespread fear, and causes mass casualties and or damage to public facilities,” he said, referring to the anti-terror legislation.

Under the law, a suspect can be held for up to 200 days during the course of an investigation.

Mahfud MD’s announcement came after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered a crackdown on the “armed criminal group” after the insurgents killed Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha Karya, who headed the Papua operation of the State Intelligence Agency.

The National Liberation Army of West Papua (TPNPB), the armed wing of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), claimed responsibility for the killing on Sunday.

Mahfud MD said the government’s decision to officially label the insurgent group terrorists followed input from security agencies, politicians and communities in Papua.

“In fact, many community leaders and Papuan leaders as well as officials in the Papuan government, both at the executive and legislative branches, came to the government to express their support for taking necessary action to deal with the recent violence in Papua,” the minister said.

On Tuesday, a day after Jokowi ordered the crackdown, nine rebels and a policeman were killed in fighting in Gome, a district in Papua’s Puncak regency, officials said.

The TPNPB, however, denied that its members were killed.

The group had also said it was behind the killing of four civilians earlier this month, including two teachers and a 16-year-old high school student, saying the victims were spies for the government.

The Papua provincial police said Thursday that the separatist group had carried out 16 separate attacks since the start of the year, including ones that killed six members of security forces and seven civilians.

TPNPB: Indonesia ‘terrorist state’

The Papuan guerrillas, who have been waging an insurgency in the largely Christian and Melanesian Papua region, now share the same official terrorist designation as violent extremist Muslim groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which the Indonesian government has also outlawed.

The TPNPB, in turn, accused government security forces of terrorism as it responded to the statement by the Indonesian security minister.

“We, TPNPB-OPM, are ready to declare a global campaign that Indonesia is a terrorist state,” rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said in a statement.

“We are defending the rights of our nation, our people and our land. We will continue to fight against terrorist and criminal forces from Indonesia,” he said.

Sambom also threatened to bring Indonesia before an international tribunal.

“We have our own lawyers, and our lawyers say that if Indonesia dares to designate the TPNPB as a terrorist organization, then we are very much ready to take this matter to the international court,” he said.


West Papuan activists scuffle with Indonesian soldiers and police officers who try to confiscate their banner during a rally calling for the remote region’s independence, in Jakarta, Dec. 19, 2020. [AP]  

Using the anti-terror law to deal with the insurgency could worsen the climate in Papua, said Sidney Jones, a terrorism expert who directs the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta think-tank.

“Wording in the terrorism law makes it easier for authorities to arrest people with soft evidence,” Jones told BenarNews after the government designated the TPNPB-OPM as a terrorist group.

“Right now, the complaints that are often heard are that the Papuan people are marginalized. Stigmatizing them as terrorists will only make the community more angry,” she said.

Jones said the government needed to apply a new approach other than sending more troops to Papua.

“We have to assess the weaknesses. There needs to be an approach in which they see a pathway to resolve the conflict using soft methods, how we can improve relations between the state and local communities,” Jones said.

Amiruddin Al Rahab, deputy chairperson of the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said labelling the separatists as terrorists would not solve the conflict, which has simmered for decades in the far-eastern Papua region.

“They keep changing the labels – KSP, KKSB, KKB, now terrorists,” he said, referring to various designations authorities have used to refer to the separatist group.

“What has changed? Nothing. The situation remains the same,” Amiruddin told an online discussion.

Amiruddin urged the government to adopt persuasive measures and law enforcement that is transparent, fair and accountable.

The government’s move will only increase tensions and endanger civil society, according to Sam Awom, Papua coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).

“The government has been too hasty in responding to the current situation in Papua because the head of the Regional Intelligence Office was killed,” Sam told BenarNews.

“What we fear is that activists will be treated as terrorists for having relationships with members of armed groups,” added Sam.

Sam said the government should listen to Komnas, human rights groups and Papuan indigenous leaders – not just the military.

Mahfud, during his announcement, provided assurances that security forces would not target civilians.

“How much strength? Yes, we are only facing a handful of people, not the Papuan people. Therefore it will be done according to the law. The police will play the leading role, with assistance from the TNI,” Mahfud said.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the Papua region – which makes up the western half of New Guinea Island – and annexed it.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Andrew Johnson
May 02, 2021 12:02 PM

Indonesian reprisals have continued to escalate since the OPM began finding political & legal avenues in 2005 when the US Congress wrote a bill (sec.1115 of the 2005 Foreign Relations Authorization bill) asking questions about the welfare & sovereignty of West Papua since Indonesia asked America in 1962 to help Indonesia get the Dutch to sign a "special United Nations trusteeship" agreement known as the 'New York Agreement'. In response to that Indonesia had to exercise its influence inside the US to get the US Senate to overturn and remove section 1115. Then five years later in 2010 the OPM wrote a draft UN General Assembly motion that the Vanuatu government agreed to present asking that the Assembly request the International Court of Justice for its legal opinion whether West Papus is or is not part of Indonesia as Indonesia claims; and again Indonesia had to quickly exercise its influence to convince Vanuatu not to present that motion for the past ten years. And finally in 2013 OPM determined that West Papua is a UN trust territory that legally the United Nations is meant to be protecting from abuse and that the organisation has been illegally withholding news of the 1962 United Nations trusteeship agreement from the agenda of the UN Trusteeship Council.
Since then the OPM spokesperson has died under questionable circumstance and there has been an international effort to undermine & sidetrack the OPM plan asking for the United Nations to put news of the 1962 UN agreement on the agenda of the Trusteeship Council.
This latest retribution against the OPM and West Papuan independence advocates appears to be another escalation of the strategy Indonesia has been using since 2005. The Papuan people need help to be heard and to get the UN to comply with its legal obligations for what it has been doing since 1962 to West Papua's administration.