SALLY SARA, ANNE WORTHINGTON
& VICTOR MAMBOR
| Foreign Correspondent
| Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extracts
SYDNEY - In the highlands of Papua, in easternmost Indonesia, villagers are returning to the burnt-out remains of their abandoned homes.
A woman slumps on the grass, overcome with grief, as men dig a pit for the remains of those who could not escape the bloodshed.
The air is filled with the sound of wailing.
Witnesses who fled the attack say they saw bombs rain down from Indonesian helicopters.
This is the aftermath of a secret war being waged just a few hundred kilometres north of mainland Australia, captured in video obtained by Foreign Correspondent.
Since late 2018, West Papuan separatists have engaged in an escalating series of deadly skirmishes with Indonesian security forces as they renew a decades-old push for independence.
Indonesia has sought to suppress news of the conflict getting out, restricting foreign media from entering the contested provinces and even cutting off the region's internet access at the height of the revolt.
Hundreds have been killed and local authorities say up to 45,000 Papuans have been displaced — a number Indonesia disputes, suggesting only 2,000 have fled.
While the flashpoint for the current wave of violence is a 4,000km road project, the origins of West Papua's independence struggle go all the way back to the Cold War.
It's the early hours of the morning when West Papuan civil independence leader Victor Yeimo emerges from the darkness.
He's travelled through the night to illegally cross the border from Indonesia into Papua New Guinea for an exclusive interview with Foreign Correspondent.
Mr Yeimo has previously been jailed by Indonesian authorities and fears he will be arrested again.
"All my life I worry about my life," he says. "Not only me, I worry about my people's lives."
Mr Yeimo is part of a new and emboldened generation of activists demanding independence in West Papua. He is pushing for a referendum on West Papuan independence.
"For us it is better to fight before dying, for our dignity," he says. "Fighting is a duty, a role of a young generation like me."
Mr Yeimo hopes for a peaceful solution and that the dream of West Papuan independence will become a reality in his lifetime.
"After the night, there will be sunrise in the morning," he said. "The people of West Papua hope that one day the Morning Star will rise up."