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TNI tries softer approach to Papua, but doubts remain

Jakarta Post - February 8, 2022

Yerica Lai, Jakarta – Indonesian military (TNI) chief Gen. Andika Perkasa has offered a new softer approach to resolving the long-standing conflict in the country's easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.

But experts say integrated actions among cross-sector stakeholders are needed to solve the complex problems facing the Papuan people. Since his appointment late last year, Andika has promised to move away from the military approach, promising a softer, nonmilitary strategy aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Papuan people.

But multiple incidents that occurred recently show that there is little sign of a de-escalation of the conflict between armed criminal groups and the military and police, which has claimed lives on both sides and among civilians. Andika flew immediately to Papua on Jan. 27 and later West Papua, after two recent clashes in the two provinces. A day before his visit, three military personnel were killed and one was left in a critical condition in Puncak regency in Papua after the Free Papua Movement (OPM) allegedly launched an attack.

The attack followed another incident on Jan. 20 that left a soldier dead and at least four civilians wounded during clashes in Maybrat, West Papua. OPM spokesperson Sebby Sembom said his organization claimed responsibility for the two attacks, saying that it was ready for any counterattack by the military. Most recently, on Sunday, a soldier was wounded after an armed group attacked a military post in the remote village of Titigi in Intan Jaya regency, Papua.

Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD has said the casualties among military personnel in Papuan regions were partly due to the military remaining in defensive mode under Andika's new approach. "One of the progressive aspects that we have to maintain is that there has been no civilian casualties under the new approach," he said. Following the two incidents, Andika instructed unit commanders to ensure their units operated within their territorial deployments during a meeting at a military command post (Korem) in Sorong, West Papua last week.

Andika previously said that he intended to move away from deploying combat units and would use territorial units, such as district military commands (Kodim), enlisted officers (Tamtama) and noncommissioned officers deployed as village supervisory officers (Babinsa).

Military expert Khairul Fahmi from the Institute of Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS) said that while the strategy looked good on paper, it was still being carried out jointly by the two institutions that had a poor level of public trust among Papuans – the military and the police.

"A more humane approach doesn't change the fact that the TNI and the police remain the dominant actors in solving issues in Papua. It doesn't diminish the fact that the interests of Jakarta hold a greater importance than the aspirations of the Papuan people," Fahmi said on Saturday.

Fahmi further said that rather than putting an emphasis on the role of military and police, a cross-sectoral approach was needed to resolve the complex problems facing the Papuan people. "The TNI and the police can develop their soft power by strengthening their capacity for territorial development and law enforcement. Both can be a supportive measure that is in line with cross-sectoral agendas," Fahmi added. Papua researcher Adriana Elisabeth said there needed to be a change of paradigm in how the government approached the issue.

Mahfud said last year that the government's new approach would be centered on collaborative welfare-based efforts by government stakeholders to execute programs aimed at improving the lives of Papuans. Andriana noted that integrated actions and a synergetic approach were needed to achieve both economic prosperity and political security. "If the government wants to use a prosperity-based approach, it can't have security stakeholders playing a dominant role," Adriana said.

Moreover, she said, an open dialogue between the Papuan people and Jakarta could provide an opportunity to strengthen trust-building between the two sides. "A dialogue with Papuans, including the armed groups, would provide strong legitimacy for the government to resolve the Papua conflict peacefully," she said.

Echoing the importance of dialogue, Papuan rights activist Theo Hesegem said Jakarta should reevaluate its economic developmental approach as it reflected Jakarta's interests rather than those of the Papuans.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/indonesia/2022/02/07/tni-tries-softer-approach-to-papua-but-doubts-remain.htm