27 Mar 2007

Papuans Seek Global Support for UN Peacekeepers, Free Elections

South China Morning Post
March 22, 2007

Papuans Seek Global Support for UN Peacekeepers, Free Elections

Abused by the Indonesian army and exploited by multinationals, Papuans are seeking self-determination, writes Fabio Scarpello

The Reverend Socrates Sofyan Yoman is a soft-spoken man. But his voice turns firm when asked what is the way forward for Papua, the region where he lives and where most locals have been demanding independence for nearly four decades.

"The only way out is self-determination. We have the right to decide for ourselves," said the chairman of the West Papuan Baptist Church.

Mr Socrates does not trust Jakarta. Nor does he think the 2001 Special Autonomy Law is the answer to the region's problems.

"In Special Autonomy there was a hope of improving the people's standards of living; but the law has not stopped the tears and blood of the indigenous, and the truth is that it gives the Indonesians more of a chance to use more cruel and inhuman policies to oppress the Papuans," he said from the provincial capital, Jayapura.

His comments point to the recent splitting of Papua into two provinces - Papua and West Irian Jaya - as the latest evidence of Jakarta's bad faith.

"The Special Autonomy Law mentions one Papua," Mr Socrates said. "Jakarta's move is illegal and a typical divide-and-rule tactic."

His view is shared by most analysts, who agree the move has backfired, amplifying Papuans' mistrust in the central
government, and undermining the pro-autonomy, moderate intellectuals.


Yet, for Mr Socrates - who claimed to speak for
most Papuans - the Special Autonomy Law's failure is just an added grievance. His call for self-determination is spurred by what he says is "constant abuse by the Indonesia Military [TNI], increased militarisation of the province, relentless arrival of migrants and the discrimination perpetrated against them on their own land".

Jakarta maintains that the situation is not as bad as the
picture painted, that the pro-independence feeling is limited, and that the region is governed by locals. In regards to the ongoing "voluntary" migration to Papua, Saut Situmorang from the Interior Ministry said that "Indonesians can freely move, and it is good to foster the sentiment that we are all brothers".

Facts are difficult to confirm. But credible information
validates the Papuans' side of the story. Recent reports
trickling out from the region tell of more than 5,000 people being forced to flee their houses after a TNI offensive in Puncak Jaya. The attack was spurred by the hoisting of the Morning Star flag, Papua's most important nationalistic symbol, by alleged members of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), last December. OPM is a small rebel group active in the region since
1965.

Diaz Gwijangge, a representative of the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, said the refugees were living in the forest, in precarious conditions. He added that "some have died of hunger and diseases, and more will die if nothing is done".
The Puncak Jaya episode is not an isolated case. Locals said"proxy OPMs are used by the TNI as an excuse to attack and justify their presence".

General Agus Widjojo, a former TNI chief of territorial affairs, admitted there were problems in controlling troops, especially in conflict areas. "The TNI command structure expects to be followed from top to bottom. But this is still not perfectly implemented as we are in a transition period," he said.

The reason why the TNI wants to stay in Papua is, basically, money. The TNI receives only 30 per cent of its budget from the Indonesian government. In Papua, the TNI is involved in a string of businesses, including prostitution, illegal logging and protection.

US mining giant Freeport McMoRan - Indonesia's largest foreign taxpayer - has admitted paying US$5.6 million annually for "protection" to the TNI, in addition to providing US$37 million to build a new military base. Freeport is one of the multinationals that Tapol, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, said "are plundering Papua's immense natural resources and threatening the very existence of the Papuans".

Observers say Papua's rich natural resources have been exploited for the benefit of the TNI, the Indonesian treasury, and the elite in Jakarta, leaving the Papuan population as one of the poorest in Indonesia.

Official data shows there are 12,000 TNI troops and 2,500 paramilitary police in Papua. Other sources say there are 50,000. The TNI has announced a troop increase soon, and rumours say that 15,000 more troops will be sent to Papua by 2009.

"There are soldiers everywhere; in every corner, in every
village. It is scary and intimidating," said a resident.

There are also many reports of abuse by the police. In a recent report, the International Crisis Group noted that the "human rights situation has improved with democratisation, but serious abuse still occurs and the officers responsible are seldom held accountable".

In its latest report, Human Rights Watch underlined how Papua's political activists are targeted for arrest. The report recorded a number of people sentenced to long jail terms for raising the Morning Star flag or expressing dissent. Papuans are also starting to be victims of a slow "cultural and religious genocide".

"Genocide is not only about killing. It is also about seeing our culture and religion disappearing with the arrival of migrants," said Mr Socrates. "Three Royal Line passenger ships bring 15,000 migrants to Papua every week. You can see mosques everywhere."

The word "genocide" was used in this context in a 2003 Yale University report, which argued that the influx of non-Papuan Indonesians was diluting the ethnic Papuans to a point that could be considered "the act element of genocide". Papuans, a mix of 312 tribes of ethnic Melanesians and mostly Christians, have little in common with the Muslim Indonesians who have landed in the region since it was annexed. In 1960, Papuans
accounted for 97 per cent of the population. Today, they are about 50 per cent, although Jakarta stopped its internal migration programme in 2000. Muslims migrants are the majority in the main cities.

Jakarta, and many of the migrants in Papua, also perceive the native Papuans as "stupid, drunkards and primitive", according to Catholic priest Neles Tebay. He said this led to "the presumption of incompetence and the assertion that Papuans cannot be trusted with jobs of responsibilities, and need to be civilised".

The discrimination has exacerbated the divide along ethnic and religious lines and created tension. Credible reports talk of the sprouting of TNI-backed Islamic militias. Some fear that ethnic clashes loom.

Papuans' frustration, anger and fear have translated into an effort to force their plight onto the world stage. "Protesting in Papua only leads to beatings and arrests," said a local source.

Mr Socrates added that "the only way forward is to involve the international community". The Papuans' main objective is a revision of history and the acknowledgment that the 1969 Act of Free Choice was an injustice. The act was a tainted referendum that decreed Papua's inclusion within Indonesia. They want it annulled and to vote again.

This strategy angers Jakarta, which considers Papua an internal problem and does not want to risk "another East Timor". East Timor broke away after the international community's outrage over TNI's abuse forced Jakarta to grant a referendum on independence and the landing of UN troops in 1999.

NGOs, church organisations and human rights groups have espoused the Papuans' cause worldwide. There are nods of support from some politicians in Britain, the US and Australia, among other countries. Only Vanuatu recognises Papua as an independent nation and it is doubtful more will follow, despite the confidence of Benny Wenda, the Papuan independence leader and
chair of the Koteka Tribal Assembly, who is in exile in England.

But Mr Wenda and many others like him are not about to give up. "I fear that within 30 years, the Melanesian race will have disappeared from Papua," he said. "That's why I am not talking about autonomy. We need the international community to force Indonesia to withdraw from Papua.

"In its place, we need a UN peace-keeping force, which can guarantee a free, democratic self-determination vote. I will not stop until our day of freedom comes."

Forgotten region with a troubled past

Occupying the western half of New Guinea, Papua is virtually unknown beyond the circle of activists and regional experts. Rooted in history, the region's predicament is compounded by abuse, ethnicity and money, and clouded by a lack of independent
reports from the area, where foreign journalists are forbidden to enter.

Papua was not included in the Indonesian declaration of
independence in 1945. The Netherlands, the former colonial power, saw it as a separate entity from the rest of Indonesia and decided to set it on a path of self-determination to be achieved by 1970. On December 1, 1961, Papuans were allowed to hoist the Morning Star flag and declare independence.

But the region was de facto invaded by Jakarta in 1962. At the beginning, the Netherlands stood firm and war with Indonesia loomed. But Papua was too small in a political scenario gripped by the cold war syndrome.

Washington feared Jakarta could fall under the spell of
communism and pressured the Dutch to let Papua go. The UN watched powerlessly as Jakarta selected 1,022 Papuans and threatened them into accepting inclusion within Indonesia in a 1969 referendum, paradoxically called the Act of Free Choice. A 2005 study by the Dutch government called it "a sham".

Papuans' sense of betrayal has been inflamed by the harshness of Indonesian rule. Even before the Act of Free Choice, the OPM had started fighting for independence. The small, badly armed rebel group never posed a real threat to Jakarta, but the TNI response has been disproportionate, with widespread abuse and a civilian
death toll that sources estimate at up to 100,000.

In 1999, a delegation of 100 Papuans met Indonesian president B.J. Habibie in Jakarta. Their message: Papua wants independence. The climax of the peaceful push for freedom was the Second Papua People's Congress, in Jayapura, a few months later, and attended by an estimated 15,000 people.

A change in the country's leadership, the loss of East Timor, and the growing pro-independence feeling in Papua worried Jakarta.

A 2001 Special Autonomy Law was the central government's only significant attempt to reach out to the Papuans. Although wide in principle, autonomy has never been implemented.

Fabio Scarpello

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