Tom Allard and Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Jakarta (Reuters) – A new security crackdown on armed separatists in the central highlands of Papua will be maintained until the separatists are wiped out, the National Police's intelligence chief has said.
Some 400 extra troops have been deployed to Papua following the assassination of a senior intelligence official there and the designation of separatists as "terrorists" by the government last month.
In an interview with Reuters, Insp. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw, an indigenous Papuan and the chief of the National Police's security intelligence unit, made the strongest remarks yet about the resolve of authorities to suppress the decades-long armed separatist rebellion in Papua.
"The objective is to wipe out those behind these horrible acts of violence," he said. "This operation will go on until we get the maximum result. As long as they have not been arrested, we will do our utmost to incapacitate them and catch them."
Paulus cited the killing of 19 road workers in December 2018, the destruction of schools and health clinics and attacks on civilians as some of the "brutal recent events" that had prompted the troop surge.
Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the Free Papua Movement (OPM), the main separatist group in Papua, said there were "reasonable reasons" behind the group's attacks.
"The military and police targeting will not succeed," he added. "Every year there will be new fighters. They will increase, not decrease."
Papuan separatists say their struggle is legitimate because former colonial power the Netherlands promised the region it could become independent before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1963.
Indonesia says Papua is its territory after a 1969 vote supervised by the United Nations backed Papua's integration into the country. Separatists say the vote, which involved about 1,025 people, did not reflect Papuan aspirations.
Paulus told Reuters that the new task force set up to tackle violence in Papua, known as Operation Nemangkawi, had two prongs. The pursuit and arrest of armed separatists and a "soft approach" – community development and increased consultations with religious and community groups.
Paulus said there had been 26 attacks by armed separatists this year, including three on Tuesday.
Two soldiers were ambushed and had their weapons confiscated by armed separatists and "were chopped up and mutilated and killed", he said. In the two other incidents on Tuesday, five soldiers were wounded.
Human rights monitors and analysts say there have been abuses by both sides.
"We are continuing to receive credible reports of excessive use of force by the military and police, including extrajudicial killings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention of indigenous Papuans," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Reuters last month.
The government has also launched a new campaign to prosecute officials in Papua accused of siphoning off some of the Rp 1.1 trillion (US$76 billion) in funds sent to the region by the government since 2001.
This "huge" amount of government funding, Paulus said, had not led to major improvements in the welfare of Papuans, who remained among the most poverty-stricken groups in the country.
"In handling the perpetrators suspected of misappropriating state finances, some regional heads or their staff will be investigated and processed," he said.
He said police antiterrorism unit Densus 88 had not yet been deployed to Papua. The "terrorist" designation applied to separatists would help authorities uncover their funding, he added.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the separatist movement in Papua had three wings: political, clandestine and terrorist.
"We invite dialogue with the political and clandestine groups," he said.