Possible conflict builds up again in West Papua as Indonesian security forces increase military deployments

Possible conflict builds up again in West Papua as Indonesian security forces increase military deployments
Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri via Pexels


Alicia Mankel

Southeast Asia and Pacific and Human Rights Researchers

Global Human Rights Defence

Following the protracted hostage-taking of New Zealander pilot Philip Mehrtens by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the long-simmering conflict between Indonesia and its West Papua region appears to have been reignited (Gao & Charlton, 2023). As a result, human rights organisations have expressed concern about the increasing deployment of Indonesian troops in the region (World Council of Churches, 2023).

The Western part of the island of Papua New Guinea, often called West Papua, is administered by Indonesia and divided into several Indonesian provinces (Gao & Charlton, 2023). Since Indonesia took control in 1963, there has been a conflict across the natural resource-rich region between the TPNPB, the Free Papua Movement, and many more that demand independence, and Indonesian security forces deployed in the region (ACAPS, 2022). Many international organisations have since become concerned about the conflict, reporting human rights violations such as torture, looting, burning of villages, and other forms of violent repression by the Indonesian armed forces, which are seldomly brought to justice for alleged abuses committed in West Papua (ACAPS, 2022). However, the Indonesian government denies all allegations. 

Now, the conflict has flared up again. Especially in the West Papuan region of Nduga (Highland Papua), Indonesian troops have reportedly carried out bombings (Asia Pacific Report, 2023). This was further highlighted in a recently released video of Philip Mehrtens – who is still in the hands of TPNPB – in which the pilot calls on Indonesia to stop bombing the Highland Papua region, as this would endanger both his life, as he is currently being held hostage in the area, and the lives of many people living there who have had to flee the violent clashes. At the same time, the TPNPB issued a statement saying it would only release Mehrtens through negotiations and not military operations while condemning New Zealand for allegedly collaborating with Indonesia (ABC News Australia, 2023; Asia Pacific Report, 2023).

Sources and further reading:

ABC News Australia (2023, April 26). New video shows NZ pilot months after being kidnapped by West Papua separatists. Youtube. Retrieved on April 30, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3PRAu5u8G8 

ACAPS (2022, December 29). Special Reports: Indonesia. Retrieved on April 29, 2023, from https://www.acaps.org/country/indonesia/crisis/papua-conflict 

Asia Pacific Report (April 28, 2023). West Papuan rebels condemn NZ for ‘collusion’ with Indonesia, risks to hostage pilot safety. Retrieved on April 30, 2023, from https://asiapacificreport.nz/2023/04/28/west-papuan-rebels-condemn-nz-for-collusion-with-indonesia-risks-to-hostage-pilot-safety/ 

Gao, Xiang, and Charlton, Guy C. (2023, April 29). Australia and New Zealand in the West Papua Conflict. The Diplomat. Retrieved on April 29, 2023, from https://thediplomat.com/2023/04/australia-and-new-zealand-in-the-west-papua-conflict/ 

World Council of Churches (2023, April 24). Human rights groups see extreme increase in military deployments and operations in Papua. Retrieved on April 29, 2023, from https://www.oikoumene.org/news/human-rights-groups-see-extreme-increase-in-military-deployments-and-operations-in-papua