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Civilian aircraft shot in Papua, heightening tensions amid Indonesia’s PE2024

Amid Indonesia’s PE2024, Papua experiences heightened tensions with consecutive shootings targeting civilian aircraft. The pursuit of independence fuels claims and counterclaims between separatists and authorities in the region.



INDONESIA: Two civilian aircraft were shot at over two days in Papua, raising fears of increased violence and instability in the region. The incidents occurred last Friday (16 Feb) and Saturday (17 Feb) with authorities confirming no casualties in either case.

The first shooting took place on Friday (16 Feb), targeting an Asian One Air aircraft with registration number PK-LTF at Milawak Airport in the Beoga District of Puncak Regency, Central Papua.

The following day, another aircraft, this time a Wings Airplane with registration PK-WJT, was shot at while landing at Nop Goliath Airport in the Dekai District of Yahukimo Regency, also in the Papua region. Fortunately, no lives were lost in either incident.

The head of the Damai Cartenz Task Force, Commissioner Faisal Ramadhani, revealed that the perpetrator is suspected to have fired multiple shots at the aircraft, with only one bullet hitting its target.

“A passenger, who is a member of the Indonesian National Army, Private Ongen R Dori, suffered a minor injury to the left side of his neck from glass fragments hit by the bullet,” he stated in a press release on Sunday (18 Feb).

Police General Mathius D. Fakhiri, the chief of the Papua Regional Police, commented on 16 Feb attributing the incidents to the 2024 elections.

“Yes, I have said before that this is related to the (vote) count. But we confirm that the shooting is not for nothing but to disrupt the ongoing (election) process,” he explained.

Fakhiri further elaborated on the security challenges posed by the ongoing use of the noken system in several jurisdictions under the Papua Regional Police. He believes that the situation in Beoga is a direct consequence of the election results in that area.

“So, there must be some relatives whose families happen to maybe also have access to this weapon equipment trying to disrupt the voting process,” he asserted.

It’s crucial to note that the noken system involves a voting process based on agreements represented by local customary leaders. This system has faced criticism for its impact on security and the potential for disruptions.

TPNPB claims responsibility for aircraft shootings

On a different front, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), also known as the Free Papua Movement, claimed responsibility for the aircraft shootings.

TPNPB spokesperson Sebby Sambom accused the targeted flights of transporting Indonesian military forces.

“Those are targets because we have investigated and TPNPB intelligence reports that these planes always carry Indonesian military and police forces and their logistics,” Sebby stated on Sunday.

Furthermore, Sebby asserted that civilian aircraft carrying military and police personnel to conflict zones violate international humanitarian law.

“We give a warning again that civilian aircraft should not carry the military because it violates international humanitarian law,” he emphasized.

Sambom also claimed that TPNPB targets not only aircraft but also school buildings and hospitals used by Indonesian military and police forces.

“Don’t blame TPNPB when burning school buildings and hospitals, as it is the fault of the Indonesian government and its troops,” he declared.

Persistent Pursuit of Independence in Papua Amid Indonesia’s PE2024

For context, the TPNPB is part of the larger Free Papua Movement (OPM), which seeks the independence of Papua from Indonesia. The OPM is a separatist movement founded in six provinces in Papua to establish an independent Papua.

The movement comprises three distinct groups, all united in their objective of creating a separate Papua state.

The first group engages in peaceful demonstrations and protests, often carried out by individuals who have studied at various universities in Indonesia.

The second group consists of a small leadership based outside Indonesia, particularly in Australia and the Netherlands, focusing on raising international support for the OPM movement.

The third group takes up arms, engaging in acts of terror against the people of Papua and attacking Indonesian National Army (TNI) and National Police (Polri) personnel.

Within the OPM, there are three armed factions: the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) led by Goliath Tabuni, the West Papua Revolutionary Army (TRWP) led by Mathias Wenda, and the West Papua National Army (TNPB) led by Fernando Worobay.

The Indonesian government refers to these groups as Armed Criminal Groups (KKB), Armed Separatist Criminal Groups (KKSB), and Papuan Separatist Terrorist Groups (KSTP), holding them responsible for numerous deaths in the region.

In addition to acts of terror, armed OPM groups regularly conduct flag-raising ceremonies featuring the Morning Star flag on 1 December each year, considering it the day of Papua’s independence.

OPM members display the Morning Star flag and other symbols of Papuan separatism, such as the national anthem “Hai Tanahku Papua” and the state emblem.

In 1982, the OPM Revolution Council (OPMRC) was established under the leadership of Moses Werror.

OPMRC sought international recognition for West Papua’s independence through diplomacy campaigns in forums such as the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, South Pacific Forum, and ASEAN.

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