Thousands of West Papuan villagers have reportedly fled from their homes in a remote regency due to conflict between Indonesian military forces and pro-independence fighters.
This follows a string of deaths in Nduga regency where Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have exchanged gunfirein recent weeks.
Since the latter part of 2017, fighters with the West Papuan Liberation Army, or TPN, have intensified hostilities with Indonesia's military and police in Tembagapura and its surrounding region in Papua's Highlands. Photo: RNZ / Suara Wiyaima
Three people were killed in an attack on police at the local airport two weeks ago during regional elections. A faction of the Liberation Army claimed responsibility.
Following the attack, about a thousand extra police and military personnel deployed to the regency.
They have been conducting an aerial campaign over the Alguru area in pursuit of the Liberation Army, with unconfirmed reports saying at least two Papuans have been shot dead and others injured in recent days.
A police helicopter was reportedly fired on by a faction of the Liberation Army last week, although it is unclear whether it was in response to rounds of aerial artillery fired by the military over Alguru.
Thousands of Nduga villagers had fled from the regency since the violence surged during last month's elections, Mr Tabuni said.
The villagers were terrified by recent developments which echoed shootings and killings that took place in previous Indonesian military deployments to the remote region, he said.
The recent influx of Indonesian military had brought back memories from 1996 in particular, when Indonesian military commander Prabowo Subianto led special forces into the same area on a campaign to save hostages held by the Free Papua movement commander Kelly Kwalik.
"That's why when a lot of troops... army and police coming in to Nduga, Kenyam, most of our people are afraid, you know, that the same thing is going to happen," Mr Tabuni said.
"So we are deeply traumatised. That's why when a lot of troops... army and police coming in to Nduga, Kenyam (the regency's capital), most of our people are afraid, you know, that the same thing is going to happen. "
Special Autonomy Status was granted to Papua by Jakarta in 2001 with the promise of developing its human potential but in Mr Tabuni's view this had not transpired.
"Conflicts in Special Autonomy is more than in the past because of this politics," he said.
"The regional politics as well as the politics in terms of campaigning (for) being head of regency and governors. So these two politics kill many Papuans, honestly, especially those that are young.”
West Papuan demonstrators tightly monitored by Indonesian police. Photo: Whens Tebay
Mr Tabuni said many young Papuans wanted dialogue between Indonesia's government and those pursuing independence to find a peaceful solution.
"We don't want to be invoved in all this politics and conflict and war. We have to have open dialogue to solve all the problems."
Meanwhile, human rights activistsurged the security forces to withdraw their join operation in Nduga, saying it was having a major impact on the lives of local villagers.
A West Papuan from Nduga regency says young people are tired of repeated violence triggered by politics in Indonesia's Papua region.
Samuel Tabuni's comment follows a string of deaths in Nduga where Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have exchanged gunfire in recent weeks.
Speaking from the provincial capital Jayapura, Mr Tabuni says he is in communication with friends and family back in Nduga.
He says thousands have fled from the regency since the violence surged during last month's elections because they are terrified by the Indonesian military operations.
Mr Tabuni told Johnny Blades that for locals, the recent influx of Indonesian security forces has revisited memories from 1996 when Indonesian military commander Prabowo Subianto led special forces into the same area on a campaign to save hostages held by the Free Papua movement commander Kelly Kwalik.
SAMUEL TABUNI: We had a very bad experience, twenty years ago, you know, the Prabowo operations to catch Kelly Kwalik and his group, and the hostages. And before the government really existed in Nduga, for the first time we were faced with the army. So our people - 85 percent are not well educated - so first time we got in touch with army it was brutality and weapons and killings and stuff like that. So we are deeply traumatised. That's why when a lot of troops... army and police coming in to Nduga, Kenyam, most of our people are afraid, you know, that the same thing is going to happen. That's what is happening now.
JOHNNY BLADES: People are sick of the violence, the fighting?
ST: After forty years being part of the Indonesian province, as a young.. I'm young. I'm representing young population here in Papua, the two provinces. I would love to see that there is dialogue in between central government and Papua people, especially those who are against the government, like OPM (Free West Papua Movement) members, so we can solve all the problems. I'm actually speaking up, trying to represent young Papuans, because we don't want to live in a world where there is conflict all the time, there is gun shots all the time. We actually are not building West Papuans being fully independent in every aspect of life. We want to see that our future is full of peace and prosperity. We don't want to be involved in all this politics and conflict and war. We have to have open dialogue to solve all the problems.
JB: It's difficult for the OPM and Jakarta to agree on the political status of West Papua. Does that mean there needs to be some compromise?
ST: Yeah I think firstly, Jakarta is scared of open dialogue and disintegration, for sure. But the OPM also believes that we have to separate from Indonesia. And then these two positions are not really facilitate young Papuans in this era. Now the era is really advanced, everything is more open. we don't want to stay in the conflict. we need some areas where we can develop our skills and develop our own people. So whether OPM wants full independence... but now central government, they say we already gave you a Special Autonomy, and use that Special Autonomy as an opportunity to develop education and economic and healthcare and stuff like that. But conflicts in special Autonomy is more than in the past, because of this politics. The regional politics as well as the politics in terms of campaigning (for) being head of regency and governors. So these two politics kill many Papuans, honestly, especially those that are young. And this is going to affect us as the next generation. We are fighting among ourselves, in conflicts. So that's why I would love to see whether there is Papuans, as independent or still as part of the Indonesian province, we have to dialogue. Dialogue openly to end all these problems.