Factbox-Separatist insurgency in Indonesia’s Papua region
JAKARTA (Reuters) – The kidnapping of 37-year-old New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens by separatist rebels in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua has thrown a spotlight on the decades-long, low-level insurgency in the remote, resource-rich area.
Here are some facts about the region and its conflict:
* The western half of New Guinea island is Indonesia’s easternmost region, commonly referred to as Papua. Indonesia has divided it into six provinces, one of which is also called Papua.
* The population of the Papua region is about 4.3 million.
* Though rich in gold, copper, timber and natural gas, the region is one of the poorest, most underdeveloped in the country.
* The former Dutch colony was bought under Indonesian control in 1969 through a vote supervised by the United Nations.
* Separatists say that vote, which involved about 1,000 people who chose unanimously to join Indonesia, did not reflect their aspirations.
* Indonesia says the vote was in accordance with international law, but a low-level campaign for independence waged by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has simmered ever since.
* Disparate armed factions make up the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the OPM.
* There are an estimated 500 TPNPB fighters who in recent years have conducted more frequent and deadly attacks, although generally small in scale.
* The Indonesian government officially designated armed separatists in Papua “terrorists” in 2021.
* The government calls armed groups in the region “Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata” or KKB, which translates as “armed criminal groups”.
* Separatists have taken foreigners hostage in the region before, most notably in 1996, when a group of 26 wildlife researchers, including four Britons and two Dutch, were kidnapped in an area called Mapenduma.
* Several hostages were released but 11 of them were held for four months. Indonesian security launched a military operation, during which nine of the hostages were rescued and two were killed.
* In 2015, the rebels seized two construction workers but released them days later, reportedly for ransom.
* In 2017, armed separatists occupied several villages, threatening to disrupt operations at the nearby Grasberg copper mine. The fighters left the area after a military operation.
* Conflict in the region has escalated significantly since 2018, largely because the separatists have been able to get their hands on better guns through raids on army posts and the black market.
* In the highland area of Nduga, a separatist group killed 21 road construction workers in 2018. Other attacks have followed, usually targeting military officers and civil servants.
* In April 2021, rebels killed a regional intelligence chief in an ambush in the highlands.
* Authorities have started to conduct more air strikes in fighting the rebels, analysts say.
* The government has vowed to take a softer approach but the insurgency has intensified regardless.
* In response to deteriorating security, the military has tended to deploy more troops, leading to more resentment among indigenous Papuans, rights groups say.
(Reporting by Kate Lamb; Editing by Robert Birsel)