Jul 13, 2019

West Papua: Armed Groups Agree to Civilian Control According to Reports

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), led by exiled leader Benny Wenda, which uses political and diplomatic means in a push for independence has claimed that armed groups in West Papua have placed themselves under their political control, although other groups claim that this is not the case. An Australian academic who leads a project on West Papua at the University of Wollongong described the move as significant, as a means of showing that, should West Papua achieve independence it would not descend into a military dictatorship.

Below is an article published by ABC Australia:

A West Papuan independence organisation has claimed to have unified three armed separatist groups to lobby for independence from Indonesia and "take over our country".

The new army would come under the command of umbrella group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), led by exiled leader Benny Wenda, which uses political and diplomatic means in a push for independence.

However, the ABC cannot independently verify the claims, which a representative of one of the three militant groups rejected calling the statement a "fraud".

The rebel groups have long acted unilaterally in their push for independence for the region, which will this month [July 2019] mark 50 years since it became part of Indonesia.

"Politically and militarily we are united now. The international community can now see without a doubt that we are ready to take over our country," Mr Wenda announced via the ULMWP website.

"Indonesia cannot stigmatise us as separatists or criminals anymore, we are a legitimate unified military and political state-in-waiting."

West Papua, which shares an island with Papua New Guinea, is in the grip of a long-running independence conflict.

Camellia Webb-Gannon, the coordinator of the West Papua Project at the University of Wollongong, said a union between political and military activists would be significant.

"For the first time the armed wing has now said we are going to answer to the political movement, the ULMWP," Dr Webb-Gannon told the ABC.

“It's really important because they are showing … if we were independent, we're not just going to be a military dictatorship. The military is going to answer to the political leaders."

But she also warned the latest development could stir up tensions with Indonesia's military, which has a strong presence in the Papua and West Papua provinces.

As soon as members of the armed independence movement "increase activity" or are "seen to have more of a presence" in West Papua, "the Indonesian military will then make its presence known", she said.

"[The new union] also puts pressure on the international community to either counter the West Papuan narrative that yes, they can take care of themselves, and yes they do have the right and ability to self-determine and self-govern", Dr Webb-Gannon said.

"Or to hold Indonesia to account and to say to Indonesia, 'what are you doing, why are you holding West Papuans down'."

Jacob Rumbiak, a spokesman for the ULMWP, said the decision would unite political, intelligence and military wings into one diplomatic group that would push the campaign forward.

"[This union] will show to Indonesia, and also the world, that we as West Papua are ready today to get independence," he told the ABC.

"Our military will automatically be under full control of one commander … We already have a very clear agenda to become the best freedom fighters."

The three armed groups listed by ULMWP included Tentara Pembebasan Nasiona Papua Barat (TPNPB), which attacked a construction site in December [2018] killing 31 and sparking a brutal military crackdown in the region.

TPNPB is the military wing of the Free Papua Movement (OMP), whose chairperson Jeffery Bomanak rejected the claims of a union and said he "strongly advised" the ULMWP "to withdraw the incorrect and fraudulent statement".

"[The ULMWP] is now committing fraud by pretending to have united with the legitimate West Papuan National Liberation Army, TPNPB, to gain credit and popularity," Mr Bomanak told the ABC.

Mr Bomanak warned the formation of the West Papua Army could lead to "internal conflicts with possible deadly consequences".

But the ULMWP dismissed the claims saying, "The majority in West Papua support us".

The Indonesian embassy in Canberra did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.


Photo courtesy of Reuters