TPNPB Paniai Commander Demianus Magai Yogi (holding the megaphone) - Jubi/Dok

West Papua liberation army or TPNPB: Criminals, terrorists, or freedom fighters?


West Papua No. 1 News Portal | Jubi

Jayapura, Jubi – The people who choose to fight for the freedom of Papua Land, or internationally known as West Papua, with guns have been called criminals by the Indonesian government. Recently, it wanted to call the people “terrorists”. But who are they?


Armed groups who demanded West Papua’s independence from Indonesia have existed for decades. The seeds of rebellions grew in the 1960s, the decade when the Dutch and Indonesian governments got into a long and convoluted negotiation to get what we know now as Papua Land or West Papua. The process did not involve many Papuans, and this has been the source of protest and anger among some native Papuans.


May 1, 1963 was the day when the United National Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) handed over West Papua into Indonesia’s hands.



In West Papua, the government and pro-government institutions celebrated every May 1 as the day when Indonesia came out a victor over the Dutch colonizers. For some native Papuans, May 1, 1963 was the beginning of Indonesia’s occupation in West Papua.


Read also: ‘Who’s the real terrorist in Papua?’: Indonesian govt wants to call TPNPB terrorist group


In 1965, the group declared Free Papua Movement (OPM) and in July 1965, former soldiers of Papuan Volunteer Corps, which was formed by the Dutch, attacked Indonesian military and police posts in Kebar district in Tambrauw Regency.


Since then, armed groups affiliated to OPM have fought the Indonesian government to demand separation.


Narrative wars


Indonesian government, however, did not acknowledge these fighters as part of the Free Papua Movement. Over the years, they had several labels to call the armed groups. Nowadays, the fighters are under the command of West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), a group the government calls an “armed criminals group”. The Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police had also called them “armed criminals separatists group”.


In the last few years, they were mulling over another label: terrorists. The idea surfaced again last week, when the head of National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) spoke at the House of Representatives in March 2021 to put TPNPB into the terrorists category.


How a history is told, however, is always the privilege of the victor and the powerful.


‘Think again’


The director of Democracy Alliance for Papua, Latifah Anum Siregar, said on March 25, 2021 that the government should be careful in labelling TPNPB as terrorists. “I think, pardon my blunt words, the government has run out of ideas on how to deal with TPNPB,” she said.


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She acknowledged that the definition of terrorism in the Law No. 5/2018 on terorrism crimes, was very general, allowing everyone to be called a terrorist. But to label TPNPB as terrorists, the government should think carefully, she said.


“We know that TPNPB/OPM has different characteristics with terrorists. TPNPB/OPM had one purpose, aspiration to achieve political sovereignty. That’s one difference,” she said.


Terrorist groups, on the other hand, only fought for their own personal or group’s goal.


She also said the location of TPNPB’s operation was only in Papua Land, which is different than terrorist groups.


“TPNPB/OPM does not have a personal goal, they fight for bigger cause, which is [Papuans] political sovereignty,” she went on.


Latifah, who was part of Papuan Peace Network, said she condemns violence against civilians but she said TPNPB did not attack civilians randomly. They usually killed civilians when they believed they were the military and the police spies.


She said there was a definition in the terrorism law that terrorists attacks were targeted at random people, not selected.


Papua Legislative Council member, Laurenzus Kadepa, said the government had been at their wits’ end in dealing with TPNPB, so they proposed the terrorism label.


He believed that the label would prompt questions from several parties, including international communities.


He suspected that Indonesian government wanted to dampen the support of some foreign countries toward Papuans’ fight for independence because no country would ever support terrorists.


“Meanwhile, if the Indonesian government let the TPNPB be known as OPM, many countries would support it, because they saw it as part of human rights,” Kadepa said.


Earlier, the executive director of United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), Markus Haluk, challenged Indonesian government to answer honestly, “who are the real terrorists in Papua Land?”


The deputy coordinator of the advocacy department at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Arif Nur Fikri, said the very general definition of terrorism were a threat to many people because the government could use their own interpretation on who were the terrorists.


He said Kontras had criticized the general definition since the deliberation of the revisions to the law.


“This time, TPNPB is the one that perhaps would be called terrorists. Tomorrow? Who knows,” he said.


‘Won’t be a solution for Papuans’


Executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, Usman Hamid, said classifying TPNPB as terrorists would not end the human rights violations against Papuans, especially those perpetrated by the security personnel.


The terrorist label, he said, could also be a pretext to silence freedom of expression and assembly in Papua.


Read also: TPNPB denies the claim troops taking control of Tembagapura


National Commission for Human Rights officer, Amiruddin Al Rahab, said he acknowledged that violence had taken many lives in Papua, but labeling TPNPB as terrorists was not a solution, said Amiruddin.


He promised to talk to BNPT about its plan.


He said the best solution for Papuans was to uphold human rights and make sure everyone respect human rights.


Reporter: Arjuna Pademme

Editor: Angela Flassy

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