Over the past few months, fighting has escalated in a remote part of West Papua. Last December, the West Papua Liberation Army massacred at least 16 construction workers; the Indonesian government sent in a strong force of troops and police, but violence continues.
Much of the violence centers on the Trans-Papua Highway’s route through Nduga regency. The government of President Joko Widodo says the road will bring economic development to the highlands. Many Papuans say it will bring colonialism. The Chairman of the Papuan People’s Assembly, Timotius Murib, told Johnny Blades of RNZ Pacific, “Papuans want life, not roads and companies.”
After the massacre last December, the West Papua Liberation Army said those killed were soldiers disguised as construction workers; now the government has sent in 600 soldiers to supervise work on the nearly three thousand mile long highway, including combat engineers.
Last week, Indonesia’s military reported that three of its soldiers were killed guarding construction of a bridge in Nduga, along with as many as ten of the attackers. A statement from the Liberation Army said the incident came after Indonesian troops interrogated a villager and set fire to five houses.
Earlier this month, The West Papua Liberation Army delivered an ultimatum that demanded that all non-Papuans leave Nduga and that the Indonesian flag be lowered across the regency. Indonesia’s military spokesman, Colonel Muhammed Aidi said any negotiations would be fruitless.
“The aim of Indonesia’s military is to preserve the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia,” Aidi said, “If the purpose of the ‘armed criminal gang’ (his term for the Liberation Army) is to be independent from Indonesia, surely the dialogue or negotiation will never be realized.”