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Group Says Papuan Separatists in Indonesia Becoming More Radicalized

A new report documents a surge in separatist violence over the past year in Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua. The report links the violence to militants who no longer believe there is any hope for achieving independence through peaceful means.

The International Crisis Group says Papuan separatists were involved in a series of violent incidents last year, including deadly attacks on workers near a foreign-run gold mine.

In a new report, the conflict resolution organization asserts that some separatists now see violence as the only way to achieve independence for the province.

Jim Della Giacoma is the group's Southeast Asia director.

"This small group decided there was no longer a hope of achieving their main objective, that is a referendum on independence in Papua through peaceful means and this lead some of them to advocate violence or in some cases directly participate in violent acts," said Jim Della Giacoma. "Their tactics are decried by many Papuans but their message resonates with large parts of the population and the frustrations they are articulating are real."

The report connects a series of incidents last year to the militants, including raids on police posts, student protests, the occupation of an airfield, and the shooting deaths of two people near the mine.

Della Giacoma says two groups - the International Parliamentarians for West Papua in Britain, and the National Committee for West Papua in Indonesia - have encouraged violence. He says they hope it will lead to international intervention in the dispute.

Some reports have indicated the mine shootings were carried out by rival factions of police and the military, competing for lucrative security contracts. But Della Giacoma says interviews with separatist leaders indicate the motivation was political.

"Whereas a number of those shooting incidents and attacks have actually been admitted to, acknowledged by those from the Free Papua Movement, and their supporters see it as a very, sort of, making a lot of sense tactically," he said. "Because they see that they can raise the profile of their issue by attacking and closing the mine."

To prevent further radicalization of the independence movement, the report recommends that top leaders in Indonesia hold talks with the rebels to find a way to give Papua more autonomy.

When the Netherlands ended colonial rule over Indonesia in 1949, it retained control of the western half of the island of New Guinea, saying it was geographically and ethnically different from the rest of the country. The Indonesian government disagreed, and when the Dutch prepared to grant Papua independence in the early 1960s, moved into the region. Separatists say a 1969 vote on remaining part of Indonesia was a sham and have campaigned for independence for decades.