Indonesian President backs plan to reduce troops in troubled Papua

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Monday he supports plans to reduce the troop presence in the eastern region of Papua, where the country’s military have been accused of human rights abuses in fighting a long-running independence movement.

Jokowi, as the president is known, said after appointing a new chief of the armed forces, “the reduction in military forces in Papua is good, but we must remain strict”.

Otherwise, he said, armed rebel groups would 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 reduced.

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

According to the state news agency Antara 2021, former military chief Andika Perkasa advocated a “humanistic approach” in Papua that emphasizes communication with rebel groups.

Asked whether troops would be reduced in Papua, newly installed military chief Yudo Margono told reporters Monday he would travel to Papua and assess the situation before making a decision, but without giving details.

The Jakarta-based research group Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said in a report this year that the incidence of insurgency-related violence in Papua had increased from an average of 11 incidents per year between 2010-2017 to 52 incidents per year between 2018-2021.

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