Date first published: 31/03/2022
Key sectors: all; infrastructure
Key risks: internal conflict; protests; business risks
At least ten separatist attacks were recorded in Papua province in the month of March, including the killing of eight civilian technicians during an attack on the Telkomsel tower in Beoga, Puncak district on 2 March. These incidents came after an attack on the Aminggaru Airport in Ilaga, Puncak regency on 19 February that injured one soldier.
In addition to the increasing attacks on key infrastructures, frequent anti-government protests have also emerged across Papua in opposition to a proposed government plan to divide the region into six smaller provinces. On 15 March, two protesters were killed and four others were injured during a violent clash with the police as hundreds of protesters rallied in Yahukimo, Papua province.
Why it matters
While separatist attacks on Indonesian security forces are not uncommon in the Papua province, the latest targeting of civilians could mark a turn in the nature of the conflict albeit not unprecedented. At least 17 people, including construction workers, were killed when the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) targeted the construction of the Trans-Papua highway in December 2018. Nonetheless, the recent uptick in separatist attacks signals a continuation of low-level insurgency waged against the government, including infrastructure projects, that will most likely lead to further militarisation of the region and a deterioration of the region’s security environment.
Meanwhile, the proposed government plan to divide the provinces of West Papua and Papua into six smaller provinces will further galvanise separatist sentiments in the region and mistrust towards the central government, which in turn could exacerbate an already-intensifying conflict.
The region of Papua has faced a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s. In recent years, the Indonesian government has funded a number of major infrastructure projects, while encouraging settlements of non-indigenous Papuans in the name of economic development. In the eyes of local Papuans, these steps amount to Jakarta’s efforts to maintain control and exploit the region’s resources. As a result, critical infrastructures have been repeatedly targeted, including the Aminggaru Airport in Puncak regency, which was targeted twice in 2021 before the attack on 19 February.
In December 2021, the Minister of Home Affairs proposed the division of Papua and West Papua provinces into six smaller provinces to increase economic and social benefits and improve administrative efficiency. However, the proposed plan has been perceived to be an attempt to divide-and-rule by the Jakarta government. In February 2022, the TPNPB threatened to target the governor and regents of Papua in case the government moved forward with this plan.
The latest developments signal an increased risk of attacks on critical infrastructure in the province. The central government is expected to respond with increasing military presence and special operations against the separatist insurgency. Whether the government will approve the proposed plan to carve up the region remains unclear. Nevertheless, indigenous Papuans can be expected to resist the government’s plans to divide the provinces as protests will continue, and anti-government resentment towards the government will increase. In the short-term, attacks against security forces and infrastructures will continue.