Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge – After eight months of the armed conflict between Indonesian security forces and West Papuan pro-independence fighters in Papua's central highlands, there's no end in sight to the struggles of the indigenous communities displaced by the fighting.
It's estimated that over 45-thousand people have been displaced from their homes in remote Nduga regency since a deadly attack on road construction workers by the West Papua Liberation Army sparked an escalation of the conflict last December.
That massacre was followed by a large pursuit operation by Indonesian forces who have left few stones unturned to hunt down the Papuan guerilla fighters.
Fleeing from the ensuing bouts of fighting and raids, displaced villagers have sought refuge in neighbouring parts of Nduga or other regencies such as Yahukimo, Asmat, Lanny Jaya, Puncak and Jayawijaya. Away from their own land and gardens, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are struggling to meet basic needs, and living in appalling makeshift conditions.
The poor living conditions faced by IDPs in various temporary abodes, for instance the 700 school-aged children in Wamena, should not be lost on national leaders. So far government has largely been ineffective in alleviating their plight. Neither central nor local government has found a way to end the conflict, to provide humanitarian aid to the displaced, or restore secured living conditions in Nduga.
Given the negligence of the armed conflict and those it displaces, the central government displays a form of political discriminations towards Papuans.
Political conflict between the Indonesian central government and Papuans who aspire to independence is highly sensitive.
It may account for why there has been no clarification by government on the status of the Papua conflict since the counterinsurgency operation kicked off in early December 2018.
Secondly, the state does not officially recognise the IDPs. Meanwhile, according to the aid group Solidarity Team for Nduga, at least 182 people from Nduga have died of famine and disease in displacement camps.
Indonesia's Law No.7 of 2012 on the Management of Social Conflicts is based on horizontal conflicts, not vertical or asymmetrical ones, such as those questioning Indonesia's sovereignty and legitimacy in a territory in Papua and West Papua Provinces.
Although the 2012 law does not cover the Papuan context with its political and armed factors in its definition of social conflict, the law still acknowledges the presence of IDPs. Hence, the government should clarify the status of the conflict and recognise the plight of the Nduga IDPs. By doing so, the government could terminate the conflict, and provide necessary supplies as well as trauma-healing services to the IDPs.
As long as the government maintains its narrow explanation of the conflict as a criminal operation to inform the Indonesian military and police pursual of pro-independence fighters, the conflict will continue. The conflict has political, economic, and cultural aspects generally overlooked by the Indonesian government and its security officers.
Initially, the central government denied the presence of IDPs since they claimed that most of the displaced Nduga people have been living with their families in Wamena. In that way, it is difficult to categorise them as IDPs.
Even the regional Cendrawasih military command stated that there is no internal displacement, but a typical migration. Such a statement by Indonesia's military merely exacerbates poorly coordinated efforts by the governments to assist the displaced.
Contrary to the denial, the Wamena-based voluntary team analysis, based on verified data, argues that the IDPs from Nduga are forced to live with relatives and have built several temporary huts as a result of the absence of specific shelters in Wamena. At the same time, not all IDPs have relatives in Wamena, so they have to find other ways to survive. Furthermore, some problems have emerged since some displaced Nduga people have illegally occupied lands belong to Jayawijaya residents in Wamena.
The local government and local security authorities have no plan to relocate the IDPs in specific areas in Wamena. However, action has finally begun, if late. Shortly after the solidarity team recently released its report of IDP deaths, the central government started distributing some aid. The Ministry of Social Affairs has cited only 53 deaths of the IDPs from Nduga, which is at odds with its initial denial on the existence of IDPs.
The data presented by the ministry using the report from Nduga health agency has some fundamental weaknesses. One of them is that surveyed health treatments were concentrated in 3 instead of all 11 affected districts in Nduga. Moreover, the treatment took place only in February and March 2019, while the displacement is still happening now, August 2019.
Indonesia's government appears to be trying to keep the Nduga conflict on the down-low to maintain its profile as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, that premier international body that promotes peace and stability across the globe.
One of the Council's priorities is to promote peaceful dispute resolution. However, the current armed conflict in Nduga and the deaths of IDPs are casting a growing shadow on the Indonesian government within the country and international communities.
There will be attention on the issue at this week's Pacific Island Forum leaders summit in Tuvalu. The issue of West Papua and its problems is an agenda item to be discussed. Jakarta is expected to face strong criticism on rights issues including on the humanitarian crisis in Nduga, from Pacific governments such as Vanuatu which has the United Liberation Movement for West Papua as part of its delegation.The Future of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
After hundreds of displaced Ndugans in Wamena rejected the ministry's aid, linked to the military, the Indonesian government must find a way to speed up aid and organise its distribution via other organisations, most likely the churches and voluntary groups in Wamena.
Some IDPs from Mbua District have returned to Nduga, and they have lived in unsafe conditions where the military personnel still occupy the public facilities, such as schools and health facilities. They also found that their homes and gardens were damaged or destroyed by security forces. Their struggle for somewhere safe to live continues.The Humanity Volunteer Team of Nduga has been helping communities displaced by armed conflict in Papua's Nduga regency with food, health and education needs in Wamena.
The Humanity Volunteer Team of Nduga has been helping communities displaced by armed conflict in Papua's Nduga regency with food, health and education needs in Wamena. Photo: Humanity Volunteer Team of Nduga
If there is an encouraging sign that government might take steps to quell the conflict, it is that the Indonesian Ministry for Public Works and Housing has considered changing the Trans-Papua Road Project route to veer away from the danger zone. It's unclear whether the plan will be implemented since the Jokowi's administration is still grappling with the Indonesian political elites to secure their interests in the new administration.
Additionally, the military and the police are resistant to calls to withdraw their soldiers although provincial and local governments in Papua have strongly urged the national government to review the massive military deployment. This raises concern over the military's vested interest in conducting their operation in Nduga. Indonesia's military plays a significant engineering and security role in the project which provides a major source of income to the institution and its officers. That's not to mention illegal distribution of arms by military officers as evidenced in the recent capture of three military officers in Sorong.
Across the board, the Jokowi administration is likely to keep repeating the mistakes of previous governments in dealing with the Papuan armed conflict and its humanitarian impacts. These impacts can be expected to rise if the central government continues to deny the status of the conflict and its victims.
[Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge is a researcher at the Marthinus Academy Jakarta, and conducts fieldwork in Papua.]