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Briefing on the current situation in West Papua

14 March, 2005

With the exception of the capital city, Jayapura, West Papua is closed to visits by foreign NGOs and journalists. West Papuan NGOs are able to keep contact with local groups and communities and collect information for dissemination abroad. ELSHAM, which recently received an international award, is the foremost NGO doing this work.

Zone of Peace
Ever since 1998 and the fall of Suharto, West Papuan leaders and organisations have been calling for a Zone of Peace. This would of course undercut the role of the armed forces. Jakarta has made no response. Papuan leaders have also called for dialogue with Jakarta to discuss the future status of West Papua. This too has been ignored.

Partition or Special Autonomy
A law on Special Autonomy for West Papua was adopted in September 2001, based on a draft largely drawn up by NGOs and intellectuals, which provides for extensive local powers, and includes provision for an all-Papuan assembly, the MRP, with oversight powers on major governmental decisions.

However, in early 2003, a presidential regulation provided for the partition of the province into three provinces, contradicting Special Autonomy and clearly intended to defuse Papuan aspirations. In 2003, a new province of West Irian Jaya (note the use of 'Irian Jaya' instead of Papua, the name formally adopted for the province) was set up and a governor appointed.

Last month, Indonesia's Constitutional Court passed down a decision that partition of West Papua is unlawful but failed to reverse the decision to create the West Irian Jaya province on the grounds that it could not take decisions with retroactive effect.

The partition of West Papua will result in new provincial military commands being created, bringing in many more troops. It will also mean drafting hundreds if not thousands of Indonesians to run the provincial administrations, because of the alleged lack of Papuans with the necessary skills to cope (the result of decades of lack of educational facilities for Papuans).

The government appears to be unaware of the incompatibility of these decisions which has caused confusion and dismay among Papuans.

Freedom of Expression
In November this year, the governor, the military commander and the chief of police declared a ban on all events to mark the anniversary of 1 December, the day when, in 1961, Papuans proclaimed their aspiration for independence and adopted their symbol, the Morning Star flag.

Nevertheless, the anniversary was marked peacefully in Abepura when the Morning Star was unfurled. Police surrounded the crowd of several hundred people and pulled down the flag. Scuffles broke out and a number of people were arrested. All were later released, excepting two men, Filip Karma and Yusak Pakage.

The two men are now on trial, charged with rebellion for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, and with expressing hostility towards the government for which the maximum penalty is seven years.

Military operations in the Central Highlands
Over the past few years, a series of incidents have occurred involving unidentified persons who were later alleged to be members of the OPM. This gave the armed forces the pretext to take action against the alleged perpetrators. These incidents have remained unresolved.

During the latter half of 2004, a serious incident occurred in Puncak Jaya, Central Highlands. Land belonging to the Tabuni tribe was used without consultation for construction of an airstrip and highway. Trees were felled in protected forests. When Goliath Tabuni was delegated by the tribe to resolve the issue, he was accused of seeking to disrupt 17 August celebrations. A manhunt was launched to find Goliath, during which a local pastor was killed, after telling troops that he did not know Goliath's whereabouts.

During army sweepings, military operations occurred and bombs were dropped (which fortunately did not explode), spreading great fear among villagers. The military also set up thirteen special military posts in the area. This led to thousands of villagers fleeing into the bush, in fear of their lives. Away from homes and gardens, the evacuees have experienced serious lack of food and clothing. However, humanitarian organisations have been refused permission to enter the area to provide much-needed sustenance and assist the villagers to return home.

TAPOL was last week sent the names of 53 persons who had died in the bush. Their ages vary from mid-teens to seventies and eighties.

ELSHAM has called for military operations to be halted, for the military to be withdrawn and for humanitarian organisations to be given access to Puncak Jaya.

The armed forces appear to be pursuing a policy to stir up conflict, in order to justify their continued or increased presence in the area. However, in all cases, the Papuans have shown admirable restraint in face of repeated provocation.

The international community should call for unhindered access to all parts of West Papua, for human rights monitors to be given access to Puncak Jaya and for access to humanitarian NGOs to help the beleaguered Papuans in the area.