The shooting of one of West Papua’s independence leaders, Kelly Kwalik, has opened up new opportunities for a negotiated resolution to that troubled territory’s long-running problems. Kwalik was one of two senior commanders of the Free Papua Organisation’s National Liberation Army (OPM/TPN), and had a reputation as being among the OPM hard-liners.However, despite recent Indonesian army claims, he was not behind a recent spate of shooting near the enormous Freeport gold and copper mine, a claim which was accepted by local police.
Kwalik’s death came after an informer told another group of police that he was behind the shooting, and where he was hiding. In an attempt to arrest him, police shot Kwalik in the leg. However, he died in hospital, in circumstances that remain unclear.
Kwalik led the more militant of two groups of separatist fighters in West Papua and orchestrated a number of kidnappings and attacks in the 1980s and ‘90s. However, in recent years, Kwalik had joined with the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, an umbrella organisation of pro-independence groups seeking a negotiated settled to West Papua’s issues, and had not been militarily active.
Kwalik denied involvement in the recent shootings near the Freeport mine, which have left three people dead and briefly closed the mine, as well as a deadly ambush on US teachers in 2002. Suspicion for these attacks has focused on a dispute between the Indonesian army TNI) and the Indonesian national police (Polri) over the division of spoils for protecting the mine site, which is one of the largest in the world.
As Indonesia’s government has moved to gradually wind back the involvement of the TNI in domestic affairs, it has increasingly handed over to the police responsibility for internal security. However, as a lucrative source of corrupt income, the TNI has opposed his shift of responsibility, and has been at pains to establish a case that the police in unable to deal with security issues.
In classic protection racket style, if a security problem does not exist, it is created. If the police are capable of looking after the situation, create a situation that is beyond their control.
Kwalik’s death will have little material impact on West Papua’s separatist movement, given his own relatively hard-line position and the movement’s shift towards seeking a negotiated settlement. However, his death may indicate to many younger activists that the Indonesian government’s security forces remain too concerned with their own welfare to place trust in them.
However, the death of Kwalik, as a hard-liner, may also allow the West Papua Coalition an opportunity to streamline its internal negotiating position. The question will be, in his second and final term of office, whether Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is serious about taking up the option of negotiation.