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A Bloody Business Beneath The Morning Star - Violence in West Papua and the role of Indonesia's military

2 September 2002

15 November 2002

Over the past few years a growing body of evidence has linked the Indonesian military (TNI) with the activities of terrorist groups within the republic. The most blatant example occurred in East Timor in 1999 when proxies trained and armed by TNI waged a campaign of terror against Christian Timorese.

 Since then TNI has been linked to the training and movement of Laskar Jihad warriors across Indonesia where they have spread death and destruction in restive areas including Aceh, the Malukus, Poso and now West Papua. At the same
time, Kopassus, Indonesia's special forces, has been linked to the funding and training of an East Timorese-style militia group in Papua called Satgas Merah Putih.

 While East Timor was the highest profile case of TNI destabilisation, Papua has suffered under a similar level of terror for many years. Since the abduction and murder of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay by Kopassus in November last year, many indigenous leaders and human rights activists fear for their lives amid heavy intimidation and surveillance.
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In mid-September the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade assured the Australia West Papua Association that "Laskar Jihad has no known links to international terrorist networks. The Indonesian police have been vigilant towards Laskar Jihad's presence, raiding the camps in December 2001 and early 2002". According to Papuan sources, however, no such raids have taken place with the number of Laskar Jihad militants in Papua growing dramatically since January.

A few days after the publicised disbanding of Laskar Jihad (announced hours before the Bali bombing), Papuan religious leader Pastor Terry Joku pleaded help in an ABC interview as Laskar Jihad members surrounded his house in Jayapura threatening to kill him. Joku said the death threats had started last year, the day after Eluay's murder. While boatloads of Laskar Jihad members were reported to have left Maluku after the Bali bombings, the same exodus has not occurred from Papua. According to a Papuan non-government group, the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELS-HAM), hundreds more Laskar militants have arrived in Jayapura. Spokesman Aloi Renwarin saysthat at least 300 Laskar members arrived from Ambon on October 26. He estimates there are about 3,000 Laskar members spread across several towns including Sorong, Manokwiri and Jayapura.

There have been other reports of gangs trying to cause trouble between Muslims and Christians in Jayapura. Last week, the South China Morning Post quoted a local pastor as saying that perpetrators caught by Papuans had admitted to being paid to attack Christians and their churches.

The willingness of the military to use brutal methods is well documented in Indonesia's recent history. All the latest evidence points to the involvement of Kopassus in an attack in late August on employees of the giant US-owned Freeport gold and copper mine in West Papua which resulted in the deaths of two American teachers and an Indonesian employee. While TNI automatically blamed the Free Papua Movement (OPM), investigations by the police and ELS-HAM have implicated the military. It is widely believed that TNI wanted to use the attack as justification for a crackdown on the OPM and increased "protection" payments from Freeport.

Because Jakarta has never been able to adequately fund the military, it has always encouraged TNI to become involved in business, both legal and illegal. And so the military has become the paid "protector" of businesses in Indonesia, especially the lucrative extractive industries dominated by wealthy foreign capital. To this end, BP's new Tanggah liquefied gas field in western Papua is seen as a lucrative opportunity that TNI is keen to exploit. BP is aware of the financial and social costs associated with Freeport's relationship with the military and has said that it doesn't want to make the same mistakes. It has promoted a military-free zone or a locally raised security force. Recently TNI was accused of instigating violence in nearby Wasior to justify its presence in the concession.

The anti-terrorism decree enacted by Indonesia's President Megawati Soekarnoputri after the Bali bombing is generally considered window-dressing to appease the West and to give the military a green light to increase repression. A senior Western diplomat in Jakarta, quoted by the South China Morning Post, said last week: "I think there will be a trend in that direction, and it is encouraged by the government's perception that it would be meeting the expectations and demands of foreign governments."

An indication of the military's belief that Bali is an opportunity to further consolidate its power was recently provided by army chief Ryamizard Ryacudu, who said: "What happened in Bali shows what happens when a civilian government does not allow the armed forces to act."

However, Wimar Witoelar, an Indonesian commentator and spokesman for former president Abdurrahman Wahid, has openly accused the military of carrying out the attack in Bali and urges caution: "The plot is probably hatched by hardline military rogues as impatient as many are with Megawati, but coming from the right flank. This is certainly an excuse for the entry of a military takeover unless it is pre-empted."

While Western governments are considering re-establishing relations with the military, those with first hand knowledge of the country and its problems believe the only way to increase security is to hold the armed forces to account; to fight corruption of the military rather than reward it with closer ties.

"You wouldn't believe the lack of faith being expressed in this government," says Sidney Jones, head of the International Crisis Group's Jakarta office. The president should consider the fact that the two institutions in this country which Indonesians have least faith in are the armed forces and the police. If Megawati now decides to give more power to those two institutions, ... then we have a serious problem."

"The armed forces are jumping on the bandwagon of the need for new powers. This illuminates the single core issue in the post-Soeharto era, which is that the military is no longer interested in conducting actions designed to defend the regime. The armed forces now act only if they are paid for it. They have become an army for hire."

Military personnel in areas of conflict across Indonesia foment violence in order to maintain control over their business activities and to justify their continued presence in these regions. With the military and the terrorists perpetrating violence with impunity in West Papua, Papuans see their only recourse is removal of the feared TNI presence through an act of self-determination.

However, in allowing the military to expand its role by igniting a war on terrorism against the Papuan independence movement, the Indonesian government risks sidelining advocates of peaceful solutions to the issues facing Papua. It also risks entrenching corruption and militarism in eastern Indonesia for yet another generation.

Recent attempts at dialogue and the declaration of a "zone of peace" proposed by the Papuans will be stillborn. The cry for freedom is so loud that widespread conflict looms if Papuan aspirations continue to be ignored. It would appear that TNI's continued support of militias and terrorist groups is a deliberate trigger aimed at setting off an explosion of violence in Papua that could last for years with serious implications for Australia and its Pacific neighbours.

TNI is eager to resume close ties with the West and to have funding reinstated, but its unwillingness to investigate and prosecute officers responsible for the carnage in East Timor has been a major stumbling block. Today, however, George Bush's "war against terrorism" is seen by the military as the means for achieving its goals.

 Australia's defence minister, Robert Hill, has argued for the resumption of ties with Kopassus, which he sees as the only counter-terrorist force in Indonesia. This is despite knowledge of Kopassus involvement in the attack on the American teachers at Freeport, the assassination of Eluay and the violence in East Timor.

Rather than establishing close ties with the military again, a policy that will only encourage further human rights violations, what may be of greater benefit to Indonesia, Papua, Australia and the region is more emphasis on the role of provincial police, their training and skills development. Co-operation has developed after Bali, and Australia has long experience in police-training programs with other nations in the region. Australian Federal Police on the ground in Papua is a logical step in the gathering of intelligence on possible terrorist infiltration.

"Community policing", involving local human rights organisations, has been advocated by Human Rights Asia. Control of ports and mines by a more professional network of provincial security agencies would ensure greater command over the entry of terrorist cells. Recruitment of Papuans into positions of responsibility may also alleviate resentment of the Jakarta-centric system that controls all aspects of Papuan life a resentment that is only aggravated by the prevailing approach to governance and an enduring legacy of brutality. The future of West Papua is pivotal to the stability of this region.

When news of the Freeport killings first made headlines, the deputy chief of the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, Imron Cotan, demanded that the perpetrators be listed as a terrorist organisation and funding to the group cease. Australia would do well to heed his advice.

Whatever decisions the Australian government makes in the coming weeks will have long-term ramifications for our security and that of our Indonesian neighbour.

Published in the Australian Financial Review © 2002

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