Jakarta’s change of strategy towards West Papuan separatists


imageIn the middle of last month, in a surprising move by Indonesian authorities, high-profile West Papuan separatist leader Filep Karma was released after more than a decade behind bars.

Karma has been sentenced to 15 years in jail following a peaceful ceremony in West Papua’s provincial capital Jayapura, in which he raised the Morning Star flag, a symbol of the pro-independence movement. Human rights groups and representatives from the United Nations condemned his detention and designated Karma a prisoner of conscience.

The decision to release Karma four years early represents a substantive change in Jakarta’s political strategy towards the unsettled region.

Since West Papua’s transfer to Indonesia in 1969, West Papuans have been engaged in a long and bloody insurgency to establish an independent state. The Free Papua Movement grew rapidly in the late 1970s with fighters joining its ranks in all major provinces of West Papua. Small-scale hit-and-run tactics against Indonesian patrols were favored by the movement’s leaders, together with targeted attacks on Indonesian and foreign mining companies. These attacks prompted a retaliation effort by Indonesian military forces, with official estimates putting the death toll among West Papuan separatists at more than 100,000. Read more.