Indonesia president supports plan to scale back troops in Papua

Indonesian soldiers in West Papua

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday he supports plans to scale back the presence of troops in the eastern region of Papua, where the country’s military has been accused of human rights abuses in tackling a long-running independence movement.

Jokowi, as the president is known, said “the reduction of military troops in Papua is good, but we need to continue to be stern,” after appointing a new chief of armed forces.

Otherwise, he said, armed rebel groups will always continue to operate there and “the problem will never end”.

It was unclear when and by how much the military presence in Papua would be scaled back.

Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua has seen a long-simmering separatist movement, which has intensified in recent years. The military maintains a heavy presence in the impoverished region, and has been accused by activist groups of human rights abuses, which it denies.

Former military chief Andika Perkasa had in 2021 advocated for a “humanistic approach” in Papua that emphasises communicating with rebel groups, according to state news agency Antara.

When asked whether troops in Papua would be reduced, newly-installed military chief, Yudo Margono, told reporters on Monday that he would go to Papua and evaluate the situation before making a decision but did not provide details. Jakarta-based research group, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said in a report this year that the frequency of insurgency-related violence in Papua had increased from an average of 11 incidents a year between 2010 to 2017 to 52 incidents a year from 2018-2021.