The recent shooting by security forces which killed two young Papuans, Eden Armando Bebari and Ronny Wandik, in Mimika regency on April 13, followed an escalation of security operations and the deployment of additional troops in Papua.
During the current outbreak of COVID-19, armed conflicts will only deepen Papuans’ fear for their wellbeing, and would seriously hamper the handling of the pandemic.
The Indonesian Military (TNI) troops who carried out the shooting argued that those two young Papuans were members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB).
But the victim’s family said they were just young men who had gone to a river to fish. Eden turned out to be a computer engineering student at the Multimedia Nusantara University in Tangerang, Banten, with no known affiliation to such pro-independence groups.
Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw said it was difficult for the authorities to distinguish between armed groups and civilians amid the armed conflict in Mimika.
To the victims’ families, he also promised to investigate the case. Previously, the escalation of violence between security forces and armed groups in Mimika regency also killed a New Zealand citizen last March. The security forces say the shooting in the area of PT Freeport Indonesia was carried out by the TPNPB.
The ongoing armed conflicts in Papua, especially in Mimika regency, are far from reaching a peaceful resolution. The government remains fixated on security operations and deploying additional armed forces to deal with the pro-independence groups. Data from the Lokataru Foundation show an increase of 3,982 Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and 700 TNI personnel in Papua between August and September 2019.
The continuation of armed conflicts is not only inappropriate for any efforts to stop the outbreaks but also dangerous for medical workers and the general public.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, prolonging the armed conflict in areas with limited medical workers and minimal health facilities is a potentially lethal combination. When some patients in Papua were confirmed to have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, specialists, personal protective equipment and health facilities were all lacking.
At the end of March, the spokesperson for the COVID-19 prevention and treatment unit in Papua said there were only seven pulmonary specialists and 60 ventilators in all of Papua; while government data as of April 16 showed 80 positive cases and six had died in Papua province.
The unresolved conflict will only add to the difficulties faced by local governments and medical staff in tackling the pandemic.
Therefore, efforts to stop the armed conflict in Papua must be an immediate priority for the government so all resources could be directed toward handling the outbreak. An appeal to end violent conflict during the pandemic was also conveyed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on March 23.
He emphasized the importance of creating a path for health assistance and peace dialogue in conflict areas currently affected by COVID-19. The continuation of armed conflicts is not only inappropriate for any efforts to stop the outbreaks but also dangerous for medical workers and the general public.
After the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, the Indonesian government was willing to open a peaceful dialogue in the conflict area, knowing that violence would only worsen the situation after a disaster that saw hundreds of thousands dead and missing.
The same approach should be implemented by the government to prioritize peace efforts over violence during this pandemic.
However, peace talks would still need to accommodate necessary investigations into human rights violations in Papua, which has witnessed too many unresolved cases of unlawful killings.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.