Appeal to the International Community over the devastating Puncak Jaya operation and wider destabilizing political developments in West Papua
21 December 2004
Solution to Papuan military operation a test for new Indonesian President Yudhoyono's leadership
Indonesia's new President must end the current military operation underway in Papua province through peaceful dialogue or risk allowing the region to become increasingly unstable and torn by civil conflict.
The Deterioting Military Operation in Puncak Jaya
Despite President Yudhoyono having expressed a willingness to find a sustainable solution to the four decade long conflict in West Papua, since August a military operation in the highlands area of Puncak Jaya has led to the displacement of up to more than six thousand indigenous tribe members and the deaths of at least twenty three, mainly children and babies, from starvation.
Having been forced from their villages by the Indonesian military, the Papuan refugees have been denied access to food and medicine and have had their villages, livestock and food gardens destroyed. According to Reverend Sofyan Yomans of the Papuan Baptist church, the villagers "are too frightened to return to their homes, fearing they will be accused of being separatists or supporters of the OPM, and killed" (OPM stands for Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or Free Papua Movement.)
The Puncak Jaya operation is seen as a test case for Yudhoyono's fledgling leadership. The atmosphere in Papua is increasingly desperate as peace advocates and church groups warn of an impending East Timor-like scenario if urgent action is not taken to defuse the situation.
The highlands area has become a militarized zone where access is denied. Church officials previously allowed freedom of movement have now effectively been barred from offering aid and solace to their congregations, which have been dispersed over the last four months. Journalists have also been barred.
A similar military campaign during 2003 was investigated last November by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). Soldiers from Kopassus were found to have committed gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, it has been reported by church sources on the ground that several attacks on police officers in the Puncak Jaya area have been orchestrated, not by OPM, but by Kopassus operatives who have infiltrated the OPM. The officers shot have all been native Papuans, but new attacks, for instance, at the time of the President's visit to Papua this week, may provide a trigger for a rapid escalation of the fighting.
Wider Destabilising Political Developments in West Papua
West Papua is home to the US world's largest gold and copper mine, operated by PT. Freeport Indonesia, while British energy giant BP plans to start the construction of the Tangguh liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility next year, and the Australian BHP Billiton is hoping to go ahead with an open cut nickel mine.
Increasing militarization, coupled with human rights abuses and unmet demands for independence, have turned Indonesia's easternmost province into a "time bomb waiting to go off" that could drag Australia and the rest of South Pacific into its wreckage.
Locals are losing patience with Jakarta after moderate independence leader Theys Eluay was assassinated in November 2001 and efforts to establish a "zone of peace" throughout the province by humans rights workers failed.
An extra 25,000 troops have been poured into the mineral and timber-rich province since 2000, and more than a million migrants have moved into the province from elsewhere in Indonesia, rapidly closing the gap on the 1.5 million native Papuans.
And over the last year reports have filtered out from the coastal town of Sorong that shipments of guns have been arriving and are being distributed to local people and to militia members recruited by the notorious Eurico Gutterres. Gutterres was accused of committing crimes against humanity following the bloodbath after the 1999 East Timor referendum.
Australia and neighbouring countries would be affected if wide-scale violence broke out and refugees began fleeing over the border to Papua New Guinea. A "failed state" crisis in Papua could also threaten security in the wider Pacific region.
Unless President Yudhoyono takes decisive steps this week, Papuan anger may spill over in what is already a very dangerous situation. His visit to Papua for Christmas on this coming 26 December is a clear opportunity for him to show his strength and commitment to bring the military under control in Puncak Jaya.
International Solidarity Movement for West Papuan, world church institutions and human rights groups as well as sympathisers around the world are called on to act urgently and telephone, email or write to their governments and members of Parliament, urging President Yudhoyono to:
Implementation of the above will be an excellent way for President Yudhoyono to solidify his position at the start of his presidency and gain the respect of the international community. It can also provide an urgently needed space in which Papuans can move forward on the crucial issue of dialogue. Governments are asked to "support and encourage" President Yudhoyono to establish the "necessary pre-conditions" for peaceful DIALOGUE.
This appeal has been issued on December 21, 2004 in West Papua by a Coalition of West Papuan Church, Human Rights and Students Organizations and Tribal Councils:
1. West Papuan Baptist Church in Jayapura