Indonesian President Orders Crackdown after Papua Rebels Kill Regional Intelligence Chief

Arnold Belau and Tria Dianti
Jayapura, Indonesia and Jakarta
2021-04-26
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Indonesian President Orders Crackdown after Papua Rebels Kill Regional Intelligence Chief Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center), flanked by Vice President Ma’ruf Amin and top military and intelligence officials, delivers televised remarks at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, April 26, 2021.
Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP

Indonesia’s president ordered a crackdown against Papuan rebels Monday after insurgents killed an army general who headed the government’s intelligence operations in the region – the highest-ranking military officer to die in the decades-old separatist conflict.

Separatist rebels shot dead Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha, the head of the State Intelligence Agency’s (BIN) Papua region office, in an ambush on his convoy Sunday afternoon as he was visiting Beoga, a district in Puncak regency where the government has launched counter-insurgency operations, officials from both sides said.

“I have ordered the military and police chiefs to pursue and arrest members of the armed criminal group,” President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said in a televised statement. 

Beoga is where the rebels targeted civilians in a string of recent fatal attacks, accusing them of spying for the government. The armed wing of the Free Papua Movement separatist group claimed responsibility for those killings and the shooting of the brigadier-general, the lone fatality in Sunday’s roadside ambush.  

“There’s no place for armed criminal groups in the land of Papua and the entire nation,” Jokowi said. 

The brigadier-general would receive a posthumous promotion, the president said.  

“I, on behalf of the Indonesian people and government, would like to express profound condolences to the family left behind,” Jokowi said. He delivered a similar message a day earlier, when the military announced that one of its submarines had broken up in deep water off Bali, killing all 53 crew members.

BIN spokesman Wawan Hari Purwanto said Putu Danny was visiting Beoga to assess security there amid the recent killings of civilians and arson attacks on schools.

He was riding in a convoy with other officials and security forces when they came under fire, Wawan said.

Gusti was “conducting a field observation to speed up the restoration of security after the brutal action of the Papuan Separatist and Terrorist Group (KST) in the region,” Wawan said in a written statement, referring to the Free Papua Movement.

The visit to Beoga by the government’s top intelligence official in the Papua region “was also intended to boost the morale and spirit of the people who have been victims of the cruelty and savagery of the Papua Separatist and Terrorist Group (KST),” Wawan said.

The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, had told BenarNews it was behind the killings of two teachers, a motorcycle taxi driver and a 16-year-old high school student earlier this month. They were all working as government informants, the TPNPB said.

“Brigadier General Gusti Putu was hit by TPNPB’s fire,” Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the rebels, said in a statement. 

“We targeted TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) members in the firefight, but none of our personnel was injured.” 

Wawan said Gusti’s body was taken to the city of Timika and would be flown to Jakarta on Tuesday for burial at the Heroes’ Cemetery.

“This incident will not dampen the spirit and morale of intelligence personnel and other security forces in eradicating all national threats,” he said.

In Jakarta, Bambang Soesatyo, chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), urged the government to deploy forces at full strength to crush the Papuan rebellion.

“Destroy them first. We will discuss human rights matters later,” Indonesian news reports quoted the lawmaker as saying.

His call for action drew criticism from human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

“This statement has the potential to encourage an escalation of violence in Papua and West Papua,” Usman Hamid, the head of Amnesty’s Indonesian office, said in a statement Monday.

“Human rights are constitutional obligations so they must be a priority in every state policy. Putting aside human rights is not only against international law but also unconstitutional,” Usman said.

Bolder, more aggressive

The Papuan insurgents have grown more aggressive since late 2018 when they killed 20 workers who were building a road, said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta think-tank.

Putu Danny, she said, was the senior-most military officer to be killed in the long-simmering conflict in the far-eastern region, which comprises Papua and West Papua provinces.

“They have become bolder and are in control of areas in the central highlands, including Intan Jaya, Nduga, Timika, and Puncak Jaya,” Jones told BenarNews.

“Obviously they have become more aggressive but more importantly, the government’s strategy to fight back didn’t work at all because it only sent troops without understanding why they are stronger now than four years earlier, and every year they are stronger,” she said.

It would be a big mistake to label the Free Papua Movement a terrorist group because that would anger more Papuans and make the prospect of dialogue with the rebel group even harder, Jones said.

In her opinion, the government needs to investigate the rebels’ sources of funding and weapons, and find out why they have become stronger despite large numbers of government troops being sent to the region.

“It is clear that the presence of more troops does not mean that Papuans are safer,” she said.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security scholar at the University of Indonesia, agreed that the rebels have grown more aggressive.

“Ambushes on convoys of government officials and security forces have become more frequent,” he told BenarNews.

According to Stanislaus, the rebels worry that highway construction and other infrastructure development projects being carried out by the Jokowi administration will win the hearts and minds of Papuans in the deeply impoverished and underdeveloped region.

“This is something that they don’t like,” he said.

Nevertheless, the government must continue its programs to improve the lives of the Papuan people, he said.

“When trust in the government is high, the armed criminal group will have little room to influence the public. The role of the state in the fields of education, health and infrastructure is crucial,” he added.

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.

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