There are currently two main causes for concern in West Papua, Indonesia—conflicts between government forces and a separatist insurgency, and tensions between Muslim and Christian communities. In response to the presence of armed separatists in the area, Indonesian authorities have stationed troops in the region, while police arrest and detain those expressing dissent or criticism. The government has restricted access by human rights monitors and journalists from foreign countries, making it virtually impossible to conduct proper investigations. The overall situation worsened last week, when Indonesian security personnel beat and arrested hundreds of activists and other attendees at the Third Papuan People’s Congress’ independence rally. To date, two people have died as a result, their bodies discovered behind a barracks.
Hostilities are on the rise between Muslims and Christians due to steady Muslim migration from other parts of Indonesia, exclusivist groups on both sides that have reinforced an “us vs. them” mentality, and the lasting impact of past conflicts. Moreover, as opportunities arise to study Islam outside Papua, the indigenous Muslim community is being divided by those who return home with ideas in contention with traditional local practices.
Human rights organizations have reported sightings of jihadi groups and training camps in West Papua. Ja’far Umar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, admitted that some of his men arrived in Papua in late 2000 to assess “the needs of Muslims.” Thalib then sent approximately 200 men to Papua in 2001 to “crush” the Papuan independence movement, which he claimed was a Christian conspiracy to secede from Indonesia and form a Christian state. The group has since been disbanded.