Jayapura, Jubi – Church leaders across denominations in Papua urge President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to stop military operations in Papua and instead, promote a humanitarian approach and negotiation in handling the Papua conflicts. Attempts to release New Zealand pilot Philip Mark Mehrtens who was taken hostage by the West Papua National Army (TNPPB) were highlighted.
Among the pastors voicing this aspiration are Bishop of the Jayapura Diocese Mgr. Yanuarius You, GIDI President Rev. Dorman Wandikbo, President of the West Papua Baptist Churches Fellowship Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman, Chairman of the Kingmi Synod in the Land of Papua Rev. Tilas Mom, Chairman of the GKI Synod in the Land of Papua Rev. Andrikus Mofu, and Moderator of the Papua Council of Churches Rev. Benny Giay.
The pastors explained that this concern stemmed from the fear of civilian casualties following the recent upgrade of Papua military operation status to a land combat alert by TNI Commander Adm. Yudo Margono on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
"We do not want civilian casualties, therefore, with utmost respect, we ask the President of the Republic of Indonesia to strongly order the military commander to withdraw troops from Papua. And it is necessary to take a humanitarian approach, namely through negotiations," said Mgr. Yanuarius You during a press conference on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.
Amnesty International Indonesia noted that from 2018 to 2022 there were at least 91 cases of extrajudicial killings involving the Indonesian Military (TNI), police, prison officers, and the TPNPB that killed at least 177 civilians. Meanwhile, the number of security forces members who were victims in the same period was 44, and victims from TPNPB were 21 people.
Data from the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict Studies (IPAC) also shows that the number of violent incidents related to armed conflicts in Papua from 2010 to 2021 continued to increase, exceeding 80 cases in 2021. In these violent cases, at least 320 people were killed, with as many as 98 percent of the deaths (316 people) occurring in Papua Province. The victims are mostly civilians (178), followed by security forces (92) and members of the armed group (50).
Research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also revealed that violence in Papua is four times greater than the national average. This is very ironic considering Papua has the highest ratios of security forces per population compared to other provinces.
Special envoy to free Susi Air pilot
The church leaders asked President Jokowi to appoint a special envoy to negotiate with the TPNPB to release the pilot they took hostage, Philip Mark Mehrtens.
"President Joko Widodo should appoint a team of special envoys to negotiate with the TPNPB, such as in the settlement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) on August 15, 2005. That is an example the current government can follow," said Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman.
Another negotiation alternative, said Yoman, is through the church. "Let the negotiation team from the church approach TPNPB leader Egianus Kogoya," he proposed.
Meanwhile, Rev. Dorman Wandikbo asserted that because of the armed conflict, both Indigenous Papuans and non-Papuans have lost access to basic services such as housing, health services, schools, and churches.
"Today there are more non-organic troops in Paniai, Dogiyai, Deiyai, Intan Jaya and Nduga than in 2018. Children cannot go to school because schools are used by the military, as well as the community health centers, pastorate houses, and churches. Papuans cannot stay at their home, many have fled to the forest due to concerns for their safety," said Wandikbo.
Rev. Benny Giay said that the demand for solving the Papua problem without weapons was in line with President Jokowi's public statements. He hopes that Jokowi can fulfill his commitment.
"We as church leaders have followed the political development in Papua since August 2019. After all, the president himself in his speech on June 15, 2021, talked about solving the Papua problem without weapons. Even before that, on September 30, 2019, he had spoken his intention to meet with the TPNPB," said Rev. Giay. (*)