Church leaders have criticized Indonesian President Joko Widodo after he claimed conditions in Papua are '99 percent safe' despite the Christian-majority region being one of the country's most violence-ridden territories due to decades-old armed insurgency.
Widodo's statement shows his lack of understanding of the situation in the easternmost region where the conflict continues to claim lives and displace people frequently, said Franciscan Father Alexandro Rangga.
"This statement shows how much the government underestimates problems in Papua," Father Rangga from Franciscans' Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua told UCA News.
The priest reacted after Widodo, in a statement of July 7, while visiting the provincial capital Jayapura, urged that all parties must see Papua "from a positive side, not only see the negative."
"Because in general, 99 percent is safe. Do not exaggerate small problems," he said, media reports say.
Father Rangga told UCA News on July 10 the president's claim does not match the reality.
"...if the percentage of insecurity is only one percent, why is the current situation in Papua draining the government's energy, such as by propaganda to localize the Papua issue at the national level, not allowing foreign journalists and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Papua," he said.
In reality, the conflict in Papua worsened since 2018 that left 60,642 Papuans displaced in six districts, of which 559 died due to hunger and health problems.
Augustinian priest Father Bernard Baru of Jayapura diocese's Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission said Widodo's statement contradicts his government's deployment of additional troops to Papua.
"If he says Papua is safe, why do troops continue to increase and new military posts get built in several places," he told UCA News.
The president's remarks seemed like part of an effort to secure investment in Papua, he pointed out. "It seems that the president is telling other countries that Papua has been secured and so please come to Papua," he said.
Yones Douw, a human rights activist and chairman of the Justice and Peace Department at Kingmi Church said he regretted the statement.
Douw said on the contrary armed insurgents shot dead one soldier and injured two others on July 4. During the skirmishes, a woman was shot and rushed to a hospital in Nabire for treatment.
"So, the president's statement doesn't make sense. He must admit the failure of the development of all fields in the land of Papua," he told UCA News.
He also said that if the president is "not afraid of the truth and the real facts in Papua" then he must allow foreign journalists and human rights activists to observe the situation in Papua.
The president's statement is "difficult to understand and even painful for victims of violence and human rights violations," said Al Araf, a senior researcher at Jakarta-based advocacy group Imparsial.
"Until now, the fact that is happening in Papua is that the conflict is still going on indefinitely where civilian casualties, members of the military and police were killed, " he said in a statement.
Hendardi, chairman of the national council of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said Widodo's statement "confirms his leadership perspective which does not understand the conflict and injustice in Papua which has been prolonged."
"For almost two periods of his leadership, the handling of problems in Papua has stalled," Hendardi, who goes by one name only, added.
Widodo's response was "not only contradictory to the reality showing the conflict in Papua, but also at the same time a form of normalizing a prolonged conflict," he said, adding the dominance of the "security approach" failed to arrest "a spiral of violence, human rights violations, racism, and stigmatization."
Papua declared independence in 1961 after the end of the Dutch colonial rule. Indonesia annexed Papua two years later, promising an independence referendum. The subsequent voting in favor of staying as part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.
This triggered a deadly pro-independence insurgency and the government responded with the deployment of the military. The region currently has 16,900 combatant soldiers, according to Imparsial.
At least 242 people were killed including 177 civilians, 44 military and police, and 21 rebels, since 2018, Amnesty International reported.