Indonesia designates Papuan separatists as 'terrorists'

Jakarta (AFP) –


Indonesia formally designated Papuan separatists as "terrorists" on Thursday, a label that critics said could aggravate violence and rights abuses by security forces in the breakaway region.

The announcement follows mounting tensions between the Indonesian military and guerrillas which have been fighting a decades-long insurgency aimed at winning independence.

Indonesia's chief security minister Mahfud MD said Thursday that the new label was aimed at a minority of Papuans pushing for separation.

"The government see any Papuan organisations or people committing massive violence can be categorised as terrorists," the minister said.

"Terrorism is any action that uses violence or threats of violence to create an atmosphere of terror or widespread fear that can cause mass casualties or cause damage or destruction," he added.

Police and military operating in conflict-wracked Papua could make "quick and decisive actions" under the new edict, he added without elaborating.

Indonesia's counter-terrorism laws give authorities enhanced powers including holding suspects for several weeks without formal charges.

The announcement comes less than a week after rebels killed Indonesia's top intelligence chief in Papua.

That was followed by a gun battle that killed 10, including rebels and one police officer, authorities have said, although rebels disputed the account.

Rights groups said the terrorist designation would stoke tensions, and squash any chance of negotiations to end hostilities in the former Dutch colony, which declared independence in 1961.

Neighbouring Indonesia took control of the mineral-rich region two years later with the promise of holding an independence referendum.

The subsequent vote in favour of staying part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.

"Instead of building a Jakarta-Papua dialogue... the government is emphasising the violence option," said local pro-democracy group SETARA Institute.

It could lead to "serious human rights violations", the group added.

Indonesian security forces have for years been dogged by allegations of widespread rights abuses against Papua's ethnic Melanesian population, including extrajudicial killings of activists and peaceful protesters in their efforts to crush the rebels.

In recent weeks, security forces ramped up military operations in a remote district where rebel groups killed soldiers and teachers, and torched several schools.