Jakarta – Nothing can justify the act of violence that claimed the lives of 11 people and wounded another, all unarmed civilians, on July 16 in Nogolaid village in Nduga regency, Papua.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist group, has claimed responsibility for the attack over its opposition to the formation of three new provinces in the country's easternmost territory.
The government declared in 2021 the OPM, the TNPB and other groups affiliated with the separatist movement as Armed Criminal Groups (KKB), a euphemism for terrorist organization.
Whatever their motive behind the mass murder of civilians, the OPM and its TNPB have only demonstrated their blatant disregard for both human life and human rights, the very accusations they have leveled against the Indonesian Military (TNI).
The brutal attack clearly undermines the efforts to restore peace and justice in Papua, and must therefore be condemned.
Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said the incident unfolded when a group of suspected TNPB members, carrying rifles and under the command of Egianus Kogoya, had gunning down six bystanders following an argument at a food stall in the remote village. Shortly afterward, the group stopped a passing truck and opened fire on the people aboard.
Among those slain were a preacher, Rev. Eliaser Baner, and Mahmud Ismaun, the driver of acting Nduga regent Namia Gwijangge.
TNPB spokesman Sebby Sambom said that the two attacks were triggered by an act of espionage committed by a local villager who had filmed the hoisting of the banned Morning Star flag, the symbol of the West Papua separatist movement. Sebby said that more attacks on civilians would follow in the wake of the Indonesian government's decision to form three additional Papuan provinces.
Kogoya's group was also responsible for an attack in December 2018 that killed 31 construction workers who were building a bridge on the Trans-Papua Highway in Nduga. Just two months earlier, the group also held 16 teachers hostage for two weeks and then released them.
Against the backdrop of the killings last weekend, calls have mounted for the government to change its security approach in Papua, with some lawmakers suggesting that more troops be deployed to capture the separatists and protect the people.
Coordinating Political, Security and Legal Affairs Minister Mahfud M.D. has stated that the current security arrangement in Papua will be maintained, with the police taking the lead with support from the TNI.
While the hunt for the perpetrators of the Nduga civilian killings is underway, we cannot view this heinous attack on civilians as an isolated event in the history of Papua, where too much blood has been spilled to keep the territory an integral part of Indonesia.
The latest incident only validates the phrase, "violence begets violence". If the government intensifies its security operations or brings in more reinforcements to quell the armed separatists, the violence will only continue, dashing any hopes for peace in Papua.
We do need to revisit the security approach in Papua that bears the tagline "NKRI harga mati" (Indonesia, nonnegotiable). It has only sowed resentment, as being part of the republic for 50 years has brought barely any prosperity for the Papuan people. To the contrary, natural resource-rich Papua and West Papua are the least developed provinces in the country, despite the government's huge special autonomy funds.
Let's give dialogue a chance to stop the cycle of violence.