Catholic church leaders in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua and West Papua provinces have expressed alarm over the decision of Jakarta to tag Papuan separatists groups as “terrorists.”
They said military intervention, especially after the tagging, “needs to be seriously reassessed” because it can end up “fueling violence even more.”
Father Marthen Kuayo, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Timika, renewed calls for a dialogue following an escalation of rebel attacks and a military crackdown in recent weeks.
In a statement, the priest said efforts to forge peace in the troubled region require “a dignified, humane, open and respectful solution together.”
“Several people have been killed by both security forces and separatist groups,” said Father Kuayo, adding that “the security situation is deteriorating.”
Last week, Indonesia formally designated Papuan separatists as “terrorists,” a move activists said could expand the powers of security forces, including lengthy detentions without charge.
The designation followed a call by Indonesian President Joko Widodo for a crackdown on Papuan rebels after an intelligence officer was shot dead last month.
“The government thinks that organizations and the people in Papua who commit massive violence can be classified as terrorists,” said Indonesia’ chief security minister Mahfud MD.
Separatists in the remote, resource-rich region say their struggle is legitimate as former colonial power The Netherlands promised Papua independence before it was annexed in 1963.
Indonesia says Papua is its territory, as confirmed by the outcome of a 1969 referendum. Separatists say that vote did not reflect their aspirations.
Indonesia’s counter-terrorism law allows authorities to detain individuals without charge for up to 21 days and intercept communications if suspected of being used for planning or committing “terrorist” acts.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the scope of work in Papua will be much bigger, thus it will also open more possibilities of abuses.”
Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the “terrorists” tag could also see free speech and association curtailed and “will only show that the government failed again to see the root causes of Papua’s rebellions.”
Thousands of Papuans have fled their villages in the past two years to escape sweeping operations and violence by Indonesian security forces.
In February, Catholic Church leaders in Papua signed a letter appealing for an end to the conflict, saying that a “violent struggle will never succeed.”
“Violence will give birth to violence again and so continue. Therefore we urge all parties to stop the violence,” said the church leaders. – with a report from Reuters