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Indonesia

Catholic group presses new Indonesian army chief on Papua

Young activists call on General Andika Perkasa to adopt a more humanitarian approach in dealing with violence

Catholic group presses new Indonesian army chief on Papua

President Joko Widodo swears in General Andika Perkasa on Nov. 17. (Photo: Cabinet Secretariat's website)

A Catholic organization has joined advocacy groups in calling on Indonesia’s new army chief to change the military’s way of dealing with problems in Papua by prioritizing a humanitarian approach.

Stefanus Asat Gusma, chairman of Catholic Youth, said he hoped General Andika Perkasa, who was sworn in by President Joko Widodo on Nov. 17, would evaluate the performance of the army in Papua given the frequent clashes resulting in both civilian and military casualties.

“Repeated violence is causing more unrest and depriving Papuans of a sense of security,” he told UCA News on Nov. 19.

Calls for a change of approach in dealing with the conflict in Papua have gathered pace among advocacy organizations who are critical of a policy of sending in more troops to the region to deal with separatist rebels.

Activists said this heavy-handed approach in dealing with rebels from the West Papua Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Free Papua Organization, has triggered an escalation of violence which has increasingly impacted civilians.

According to the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, there were 58 violent incidents involving soldiers and civilians between 2017 and 2021, mostly shootings, which killed 69 civilians and injured 135 others.

Every soldier who comes from outside Papua must also be equipped with a complete understanding of the anthropological aspects of the region

Gusma said soldiers needed to adopt a more humanitarian approach, including by building better communication with tribal and community leaders.

"Every soldier who comes from outside Papua must also be equipped with a complete understanding of the anthropological aspects of the region," he said.

Gusma, who was also newly elected as the head of Catholic Youth on Nov. 13, said his organization would continue to pay special attention to Papua.

He said the group had pinpointed three fundamental issues in Papua, namely a crisis of trust in the government, the pace of infrastructure development and differences in perceptions of various social issues between Papua and Jakarta.

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General Perkasa, 56, who will only serve in the army chief post for one year as he is due to retire, has promised to evaluate the handling of the Papua conflict.

"The approach I want to carry out there is the same as in other areas [of Indonesia], the same as in Java and other places, because Papua’s status is the same as in other regions," he said.

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