West Papuan Separatist Group Announced Domestic Office - Free West Papua Campaign

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The tension between different separatist group leaders in West Papua is probably going to rise, following the latest development made by one wing organization of West Papuan separatist movement. The West Papuan armed separatist group has announced the opening of their only domestic office in the region. For decades, there have been tensions and controversies between separatist supporters who stayed in papua and those who left Papua to live in other countries.

An Ambitious Move

On December 31st 2018, the international representative wing of the organization, which calls themselves ULMWP, held a ceremony to mark the opening of the office, located in Sentani, Papua. ULMWP as an organization has earned controversial reputation, even among the separatist supporters themselves, since the founder and current leader of the organization is seen by other Papuan separatists as “ambitious” and “power-hungry”.

ULMWP itself was established by a West Papuan fugitive named Benny Wenda, who fled from Indonesia and seeked political asylum from British government. Wenda is the more popular figure among separatist supporters on social media, thanks to his intensive image branding, mostly on Facebook pages. The existence of domestic representative office is an attempt by the group to have direct presence in Papua, especially to regain the trust from local Papuan residents, which was lost long time ago.

It is highly probable that Benny Wenda created the office to seize power over the military wings and national wings, in order to gain total control of the West Papuan separatist movement. If proven true, this is going to be a violent battle between Wenda and other leaders like Egianus Kogoya (who committed the Nduga Massacre, killing more than 20 civilian workers on 2/12 2018), and other military and political figures in the movement.

There are two problems which caused the loss of trust from the public to West Papuan separatists: one is that the leaders of the groups are competing against each other in getting the biggest portion of influence and power, and another reason is that the separatist movement itself was an extension of Dutch colonial leftovers.

The embryo of the organization was created and engineered by the Dutch colonial government in 1964, with an armed volunteer group called Papua Vrijwilligers Korps (PVK) as their military personnel. PVK was created during their occupation in West Papua. After the signing of New York agreement which handed full sovereignty to Indonesia by the United Nations, PVK was disbanded by the Indonesian government, but the ex-members were encouraged to form an armed criminal separatist group.

History: The Hunger for Power

In order to organize the armed separatism, a headquarter called “Victoria” was built by Seth J Roemkorem, Jacob Prai, John Otto Ondawame, and Rex Rumakiek in Waris District, now Keerom District, Papua. Five years later, the separatist group got divided over clashing interests. Jacob Prai believed that Seth was only chasing after his own ambitions and being power-hungry. Jacob and his loyalists then quitted the Victoria headquarter and established another separatist movement, called “Pemka”. Following the split, the separatists are identified either as “Victoria” separatists and “Pemka” separatists.

The internal issues of this separatist movement was analyzed by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). According to the research, tribes from the northern part of West Papua tend to join Seth and his Victoria group, while the southerners tend to join Jacob Prai and the Pemka group.

The experts believe that unity in OPM is an impossible thing to happen, since the loyalty of Papuan separatists will always be higher towards their clans and ethnicities, putting the interest of their political separatist groups in lower priority.

Competition Among The Groups

1. The Free West Papua Campaign, as an effort to globalize the support for separatism, established by Benny Wenda in England, 2000.
2. WPNA (West Papua Nasional Authority) was created in 2004 as an effort to unite all political separatist groups into one. The founders were Edison Waromi, Jacob Rumbiak, and Herman Wainggai. The effort did not manage to build bridges between different opinions of the influential men.
3. WPNCL (West Papua National Coalition for Liberation) was established by a Pemka group officer, Otto Ondowame, in Vanuatu, 2005. Mathias Wenda was appointed as the president, but two other leaders did not agree to making WNPCL the political organization of the rebel movement.
4. KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat) was established as a radical, political organization in 2008, with Victor Yeimo as its leader since 2012.
5. ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was created on December 6th 2014 by WPNA, WPNCL, and KNPB, with Benny Wenda as the spokesperson. In 2017, Benny Wenda was elected as the leader of this organization, and he established a physical office of ULMWP in Vanuatu. This move was regarded by some ULMWP members as a malicious, ill-intended move, and seen as Wenda’s ambition to create a transitional government outside Papua for his own personal interest. One of the important members of ULMWP, Leonie Tanggahma, decided to quit the ULMWP board. She is a daughter of Ben Tanggahma, a Papuan separatist of the older generation. This split has caused division between the Papuan separatist supporters, once again.

Image: Seth Roemkorem and Jacob Prai (Source: John RG Djopari)

What to Expect?

We can expect Benny Wenda and his ULMWP group to earn resistance from the Papuans, both the separatists and Indonesian nationalists. We can also expect the appearance of new separatist groups as a result of disagreements and different political interests. One thing for sure, is that the armed separatist criminal groups can never unite as a stable state.

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