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West Papua: Land of Peace or Killing Field?

30 June, 2005

Paper presented by Carmel Budiardjo to the fifth international solidarity meeting for West Papua, Manila, the Philippines (29 April - 1 May)
30 June 2005

The people of West Papua have lived for more than forty years under the Indonesian jackboot. It is widely agreed that about 100,000 Papuans have lost their lives as a result of military operations or occupation-related disorders since the beginning of Indonesian rule in 1963. Throughout the history of Indonesian rule, the main bone of contention has been the denial of the right to self-determination. Few would deny that the Act of Free Choice in 1969 by which West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia was an outrageous fraud. It was neither free nor was there any choice.

The New York Agreement of 1962 which set the scene for West Papua's fraudulent incorporation was concluded while Sukarno was president and the Act of Free Choice provided for in the Agreement was conducted six years later, four years after General Suharto had seized power and installed himself as president.

There could hardly have been a greater contrast between the two leaders. The former had been involved in Indonesia's anti-colonial struggle since the 1920s; he was a rabble-rousing populist with a long tradition of thrusting Indonesia into the forefront of a world alliance of non-alligned nations. The latter was a cunning and brutal top-ranking military officer who seized power after a blood-letting that left at least a million dead (despite Sukarno's efforts to stop it). His regime enforced depolitisation on a country whose people had thrived on political activities and public rallies for decades, with innumerable mass organisations, large and small, catering to the needs of all sections of the population. Non-alignment had no place in Suharto's New Order.

Indonesia has abundant natural resources (especially in West Papua), and after Suharto took over, foreign investors were encouraged to take their pick. One of the first was Freeport which signed a contract in 1967 to exploit West Papua's copper and gold, even before the so-called legitimising Act of Free Choice had been held.

However, when it came to West Papua, the policies of Sukarno and Suharto were indistinguishable . 'It must be ours at all costs whether the Papuans like it or not,' was the widely-held view. Indeed, they were never consulted at any stage of the process.

The common thread in Indonesian policy, whoever was president, has been nationalism, and a dogged adherence to the principle that all territories that had been under Dutch rule should now fall under Indonesian rule, whatever the locals thought.

But this was not all. The second element was the military. It was under Sukarno that the Indonesian Armed Forces gained a powerful position within the national government, at the provincial level and right down to the smallest village. Under Suharto that the role of the military was consolidated, turning Indonesia into one of the twentieth century's longest lasting military regimes. Nationalism and militarism is a poisonous mix, the cause of Papua's decades of suffering.

Already in the mid-1990s, Papuans defiantly started to demonstrate in favour of independence, and in the months before the Suharto regime came tottering down, these demonstrations grew more defiant. Unfurling the Morning Star flag (kejora), which was adopted on 1 December 1961 (under Dutch rule), has been their most frequent act of protest. Over the years, scores of Papuans have been arrested, beaten and tortured, while dozens have been killed simply for peacefully raising the flag. These actions are a far cry from armed rebellion (which the OPM and its armed force, the TPN, have sought to wage for many years) yet they invariably provoke a brutal response from heavily-armed troops or police. Papuan flag-raising is feared as a powerful symbolic action by the Indonesian security forces and the political elite, a defiant challenge to Indonesia's own practice of raising the Red-and-White on every possible occasion.

One, Three or Five Provinces?
It was under Habibie, the first post-Suharto president, that a dialogue was held in February 1999 between one hundred Papuan leaders and the President at which the issue of independence was raised. Taken aback by what he heard, Habibie made no commitments but told the Papuan leaders 'to go home and wait' and to 'consider the issue carefully'. This was little short of an insult and nothing more was heard of the initiative.

Of all the post-Suharto presidents, only Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) has shown any understanding of Papuan aspirations. At the end of 1999, he renamed Irian Jaya as Papua and contributed towards the costs of the Papuan People's Congress held in June 2000, which was attended by thousands. He also lifted the ban on raising the Morning Star, while insisting that it should always be raised alongside the Red-and White. But he too insisted on maintaining Indonesia's territorial integrity. According to Gus Dur, the flag should be seen as a cultural symbol, thus downplaying its political significance.

Since 1999, Indonesian policy towards Papua has been mired in confusion, no doubt reflecting differing interests within the political elite. In 1999 a law to set up two additional provinces, Central Irian Jaya and West Irian Jaya, was adopted, thus splitting Papua into three, and reverting to the old name Irian Jaya. This provoked widespread protest and was seen as a move to carve up the Papuan people and thereby undermine the force of their pro-independence aspirations.

It was under Habibie, in 1999, that a law on regional autonomy for the whole of Indonesia was enacted, which was certainly a move in the right direction, putting an end to the excessive centralisation that has marked the governance of the Republic since 1945. But many Indonesian politicians, notably Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was to become president in 2001 following the impeachment of Gus Dur, showed their distaste for this move towards decentralisation, seeing it as a dangerous slide towards the disintegration of the Republic. To most Indonesian politicians, NKRI - the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia - is seen as something sacred. 'Federalism' is regarded as a dirty word, the use of which almost toppled Gus Dur soon after his inauguration as president.

Faced with such strong opposition, the policy of partition introduced in 1999 remained in limbo. The idea of partition was reversed in 2001, with the adoption of Law 21/2001 to grant Papua special autonomy. The law had largely been drafted by Papuan intellectuals and was seen as something of a victory for the Papuans. While on the one hand, it was generally seen as move to dampen Papuan aspirations for independence, many saw it as opening up new opportunities for Papuans by gaining control of financial assets and overall administration.

The Special Autonomy Law also contained an important provision for a Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), composed of ethnic Papuans, with consultative status on important matters of governance, in particular regarding the highly emotive issue of partition. For several years, Jakarta dragged its feet on setting up the MRP; it did not happen until after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took over as President in October 2004. Government Regulation No 54/2004 of November 2004 setting up the MRP was a huge disappointment, both because its tasks and powers were more limited than had been hoped and also because it stipulated that the members should be 'loyal and obedient to the Pancasila' and 'loyal and obedient to the Indonesian Constitution (of) 1945… and to the legitimate Indonesian government'. Moreover, no one who had been 'involved in subversive activities against the Republic' would be eligible for membership. This clearly meant that the members were expected to support the principle of Indonesia's territorial integrity.

But then came the bombshell on the form of a presidential instruction to 'accelerate the division of Papua into three provinces' in 2003, while Megawati was still president. Faced with total confusion over what Jakarta was doing, the provincial governor, Jaap Salossa sought a Judicial Review from the newly-established Constitutional Court but its ruling only added to the confusion: On the one hand it ruled that the 1999 law on partition was unlawful but it also said that it could not reverse the establishment of the West Irian Jaya Province as everything was already in place for the province to exist.

In early 2005, there were even reports that Papua will be divided into five provinces.

The creation of new provinces means the creation of new provincial and lower level administrations, all requiring the recruitment of personnel. There is little doubt that, with the exception of Papuan figurehead leaders, most of these posts will go to Indonesians who have the necessary training and educational standards for running a bureaucracy. The terrible fact is that during four decades of Indonesian rule, few Papuans have had access to the necessary education for such administrative responsibilities, or have even been able to secure primary education for their children. According to a report in 2004, 66 per cent of Papuans are illiterate. It will also result in a large increase in the number of military personnel for the military commands.

The harmful impact of Jakarta-based decisions about administration in Papua is clear from a recent report about Wasur National Park in Merauke district. According to The Jakarta Post (19 April 2005), there has been a major demographic shift as a result of years of transmigration. Out of a population of 100,000, 40 per cent are Javanese, while Menadonese, Madurese and Acehnese account for ten per cent each of the population. Papuans are now the minority, accounting for only 30 per cent of the population in that district. Illegal logging has depleted the forests which are so crucial to the livelihood of local communities. Modern hunting methods have been introduced, undermining the traditional hunting practices of the local people who have for generations sought to protect and preserve wild life. The local people cannot compete with non-indigenous methods and the modern weapons used. Furthermore, Papuans have been largely excluded from the bureaucracy. According to the Archbishop of Merauke, Seputra, this amounts to a gross injustice. He was quoted as saying: 'We need liberating in our own homeland!'

In March this year, it was announced that the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) would set up a number of new district and subdistrict commands. The Indonesian army has a large number of divisions, most of which exist alongside a single province although in some cases they cover more than one province. These are known as Komando Daerah Militer or Kodam. Below the Kodam are what are known as resort military commands or korem, below which are district military commands which are known as kodim, sub-district commands known as koramil, while at the village level there are army officers who are known as babinsa. The army duplicates the civilian government at every level, just as it did during the Suharto era. Although there were expectations that in the post-Suharto reformasi period, the armed forces would also undergo reform including disbanding the territorial commands, this has not happened. In fact, things have moved in the opposite direction.

KODAM-Trikora in Papua has its headquarters in Jayapura. There are battalions (usually six to seven hundred men each) in Jayapura, Sorong, Nabire, Manokwari, Timika, Merauke and Biak, and perhaps in some other towns as well. There is also a Brimob battalion (a police force renown for its brutality) in Jayapura and an air force battalion (Paskasau) in Biak. The recent announcement that several more districts (kebupaten) - currently 29 - are to be formed means that the number of kodim will certainly increase, along with the creation of more korem. The troops in all these units are known as 'organic troops', that is to say, part of the regular territorial forces in the province, what might be called a standing army.

The recent announcement that a new KOSTRAD division is to be set up to be deployed in Papua, will substantially increase the number of non-organic troops there. At present, KOSTRAD has two divisions, both of which are based in Java. The decision to base this new KOSTRAD division in Papua is a sign of the huge importance the TNI now attaches to the need to greatly increase the number of combat troops in a province so richly-endowed with natural resources and a population seething with discontent. KOSTRAD units are highly specialised troops, equipped with the most advanced weaponry available, whose soldiers undergo especially rigorous training for combat. The new KOSTRAD division will be based in Sorong, according to an announcement by the armed forces commander in chief, General Endriartono Sutarto. He said this location had been chosen to facilitate its ability to deploy troops at short notice. And when asked, why in Sorong, he said: 'To be closer to places which we consider to be in need of strengthening.' In addition, there are 8,000 non-organic troops deployed to guard the Freeport copper-and-gold mine in Timika. Although BP has said that does not want army troops to guard its Tangguh project in Bintuni Bay, few doubt that the army will create incidents in the vicinity of the natural gas project so as to force the company to reverse its decision, or face the consequences of continual disruption.

The presence of these special combat troops will certainly have a devastating effect on civil society in Papua. It is not difficult to predict that protests or demonstrations about, say, land issues, or flag-raising ceremonies will be confronted by the full force of the army's strongest units, or Brimob.

The expansion will result in a 50 per cent increase in the number of troops in Papua, up from around 30,000 troops at present to about 50,000. More significant than the increase in numbers, however, is the alarming fact that such combat-ready troops account for all of the increase.

Papua, a Land of Peace
The planned army build-up in Papua is in sharp contrast to the calls by Papuans that have reverberated for years for their homeland to be declared a Land of Peace. Such a powerful slogan signifies the degree to which Papuans have felt the oppressive weight of Indonesian troops whose style is to create incidents (such as in Wamena, Wasior, Puncak Jaya and Timika) so as to provoke local communities to fight back, providing themselves with the justification to remain in place in the interests of security. The Papuans have displayed remarkable restraint in face of such provocation.

No Indonesian government has responded to this demand which should surely be the basis for serious dialogue aimed at lifting the weight of repression and creating the conditions to allow economic activities to flourish and for proper attention to be given to the desperate social, cultural and educational needs of the Papuan people, which have been neglected for so long. This should include in particular the provision of adequate medical facilities to cater for villages scattered over vast areas of land.

The only conclusion to be drawn from the TNI's decision to expand its forces in Papua is, on the one hand, that they intend to exert an even tighter control over the population while on the other hand raking in huge pay-offs from the exploitation of the abundant natural resources with which Papua has been blessed, or as some Papuans would say, cursed. As we know, most of the illegal logging which is now rampant throughout Indonesia is taking place in Papua, by companies which enjoy the protection of local military units.

Recent developments show that Papua has become a special project of the TNI, safeguarding its continued political role in state affairs and ensuring it a lucrative source of money to enrich its officer class.

The withdrawal of non-organic troops from Papua as the first step towards the withdrawal of all troops should be a major campaigning issue in the coming year. Security affairs and the maintenance of law and order should be in the hands of the police (not Brimob), along with the recruitment of more Papuans into the police force. This should be for normal policing duties including the protection of foreign mining operations, without being required to commit themselves to Pancasila or the principles of Indonesia's territorial integrity, or any other aspects of state ideology.