Indonesia Police Watch has cautioned the National Police against increasing the presence of its anti-terrorism unit in Papua, saying that move would instead worsen conflict in the restive province.
The chairman of the watchdog, Neta S. Pane, said there had been indications that the police would bolster anti-terror unit Densus 88’s ranks in the province, including through a reported plan to appoint Insp. Gen. Tito Karnavian, the deputy head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), as the new Papua Police chief.
Tito was the head of Densus 88 before he started his term at the BNPT early last year.
“Due to the escalating tension in Papua, there are some efforts now by some elites in the National Police to intensify the roles of Densus 88 in the land of cendrawasih [birds of paradise, a mascot of Papua],” Neta said in Jakarta on Saturday.
“The IPW is rejecting these efforts. … What’s been happening in Papua is not a terrorism problem, but a problem of a prolonged socioeconomic gaps,” he added.
Neta said if Densus 88 made Papua an area of its operations, repressive actions would be used in security approaches to handle the region.
He said this would be counterproductive, as the presence of the anti-terror unit would trigger more resistance among Papuans. Neta also further expressed his worry that Papua would be declared a new Military Operation Region (DOM), a military policy of the New Order regime to handle conflict regions that is infamous for its record of large-scale human rights abuses.
“It wouldn’t be impossible then for some outsiders to throw their support behind the potential separatist force in Papua. And in the end, Papua will separate from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, like East Timor.”
Neta suggested that the police instead intensify the roles of public counseling and intelligence units to deal with Papua, saying what was needed was “persuasive, dialogic and social approaches.”
He also expressed his agreement to replace the current Papua Police chief, Insp. Gen. Bigman Lumban Tobing, who critics say has failed to secure Papua, with increasing violence, especially in the capital Jayapura, racking the region in recent weeks.
Neta emphasized, however, that the replacement should be an individual who could foster constructive a dialogue with the people of Papua.