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Biak to become a military base for Eastern Indonesia

31 May, 2007

I. Introduction

The district of Biak Numfor is strategically located, being near the Pacific Ocean while the northern tip is close to The Philippines.

Its inhabitants are able to engage in trade with the Philippines, while fishing vessels operate in nearby waters from The Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

In terms of security, it is strategically located for a military base, being close to Asia and the Pacific. Three islands, Mapia, Tandjung Barari and Pantai Korem, are frequently visited by foreign warships docking here to monitor the activities of the Indonesian army.

The US army once indicated that it was interested in purchasing Mapia island for use as a US military base in the war against terrorism, but when the Indonesian government became aware of this,  they took steps to prevent it, fearing that it would enable the US to monitor violations in Indonesia. Jakarta also feared that the issue of an Independent Papua would become more widely known.

Eventually this did not materialise because BIN, the Indonesian intelligence agency, and senior army officers took preventative action, dispatching army ships and a police patrol boat to dock in Mapia and several other locations which might be visited by foreign ships.

Another reason for establishing patrol posts on the Mapia group of islands was to prevent Papuans from using this route to flee from Indonesia and seek asylum in neighbouring countries, as did the 43 Papuans who managed to flee aboard traditional boats and seek asylum in Australia.

In view of the above, the Indonesian air force and army have taken special measures to protect the territory of Papua, providing themselves the possibility of doing whatever they like against activities by Papuans to separate from Indonesia.

II. Background

The following efforts have been made by Indonesia to ensure that the Papuan people remain within the Indonesian Republic (NKRI):

  • Giving training in National Defence to all sectors of the population, traditional leaders, religious leaders, women, NGOs, students  and others, organised by the Badan Pertahanan Nasional (National Defence Agency) Jakarta, the aim being to Indonesianise the Papuans. The Agency has recruited Papuans who are willing to work with the army, to disseminate their information and spy on those Papuans who are engaged in activities within civil society. These are people who have already worked as spies for the TNI. These recruits are given financial rewards and provided with equipment such as tape recorders, hand phones, etc. Such activities are intended to engender a sense of  mutual fear and suspicion and promote horizontal and vertical conflicts.
  • Papuans in all parts of the territory have rejected Special Autonomy (OTSUS) because it has failed to bring prosperity. What they want is independence. The Jakarta authorities try to create the impression that only a handful of Papuans support independence.

These developments have prompted the military to do everything possible to preserve NKRI (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia) by dispatching military forces. These men are disguised as street vendors or they work in offices or as shoeshine boys in hotels  or work alongside senior government officials. The people have become much more afraid  and feel threatened and ignored.

Economic situation
It was hoped that OTSUS would improve the economic conditions of the Papuans, that they would get work in companies and that the division of the territory into several provinces would provide employment for Papuans.

Research has shown however that the people continue to suffer while nothing is heard about the billions of rupiahs that have been budgeted to fund OTSUS.

It is the newcomers who are given priority; the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
The military are deeply involved in all this, with the result that  people are afraid to criticise these developments and defend their basic rights for fear of confronting the security forces.

Conditions in the countryside
a) Instead of enjoying the benefits of OTSUS money which was granted by the central government with the approval of the European Union, social conditions of people in the villages have not improved, and they are enjoying none of the benefits of development. No houses have been built to replace traditional housing in need of repair and nothing has been done to improve the infrastructure. All moves to construct housing in the kampungs need military approval.

b) The local military are involved in all construction projects; the projects are controlled by the military. This is especially so in areas where the OPM is strong, such as villages in West Biak which have received no serious attention from the authorities. As a result, people in villages who might expect to get jobs have been overlooked while other people have been given work.

c) There is a military presence in every office and in all the development projects, where they monitor the activities of NGO activists. They also intercept and read correspondence within the various departments.

d) The local form of transport (ojek) is used throughout Biak Numfor; in the sub-district of Supiori , military personnel  have got work as ojek drivers in the Old Market, in Mandouw, Yafdas, Sorido and elsewhere.

e) From our research, it has become clear that photocopying centres are often checked by the military.

f) Papuans who want to develop their talents in cultural affairs find that they face similar problems to Arnold Ap (the anthropologist who was murdered by the military in 1984).

g) Military personnel also work in internet centres so as to keep an eye on human rights activists who may want to send information abroad.

h) Military personnel also work in bars and karaoke centres to watch out for troublemakers; in fact it is usually the military who get drunk and cause trouble.

i) Military personnel guard the betting shops and gambling halls but a lot of these activities enjoy the backing of the military.

Health conditions
Mother and child mortality is high and there are many traffic accidents that result in people getting injured. However, health care in hospitals for Papuans is inadequate. Most Papuans cannot afford to pay for the medication they need or to pay for hospital treatment.

There are very few specialists in the hospitals and hardly any specialist equipment despite all the money that has been budgeted for OTSUS.

Cultural conditions
Very little attention is given to fostering cultural activities.

The Biak Numfor administration is still largely run in accordance with central government instructions with little being done to implement the provisions of OTSUS. The government has a negative attitude towards local NGOs which could do much to promote regional development. This is happening not only in Biak Numfor but throughout Papua. District chiefs who ignore instructions from central government will be denied the necessary funding for local projects and will fail to secure recognition for promotion because they are seen as being in opposition to central government policy.

As a result, district chiefs are very wary about helping kampungs whose inhabitants are suspected of being pro-OPM. They are wary of doing anything to help community organisations or human rights NGOs and devote more attention to activities that involve the military.

Development Programme
In 2006, the Biak Numfor administration received a proposal to set up a radar installation. Working in collaboration with the Russian government, this would lead to the launching of a satellite from Biak Numfor. The local government worked hard to realise this project; they promised the local people that living conditions would improve, that young people would receive training  and compensation would be paid for the land used for the project.  However, these turned out to be empty promises.

The Biak Traditional Council convened a meeting of tribal elders at which this programme was explained. But local people came to the conclusion that the programme contained several aspects that would jeopardise their interests:

Local people are not able to compete with people coming from outside who are employed because they have the necessary skills. There is little chance of Papuans getting anything more than working as office cleaners or serving coffee to the rest of the staff who are all people from outside Papua.

Economic aspects
The Russian personnel are not likely to eat local foods so provisions are supplied by outside commercial interests. As a result, the project is not helping to increase the earnings of local people. Although there is a lot of investment, this is not being used in accordance with the provisions of the OTSUS law and according to the advice of the Papuan People's Council, the MRP. We fear that all the benefits from these investments will be enjoyed by the central government with very little left over for the district administration and the local community.

Health conditions
Many Papuans have already died from HIV/ADS and they now face new dangers from the chemicals used in connection with the guided missiles to be launched by Russian Antonov aircraft from Biak. No investigation has been undertaken into the effect of all this on the lives of the local people. We fear that this will have very harmful effects on the people of Biak and also on the people of Papua in general.

III. Guided missile project

In implementation of the TNI-AU's guided missile project, the security forces have undertaken a number of activities in Biak Numfor:

  • A Section Command of TNI-AU has been set up with facilities funded by the central and regional governments.
  • Houses have been built for air force pilots who will be employed to fly the jets. This has resulted in the seizure of land without anything being said about compensation for the traditional land owners. On the contrary, the land has been declared to be the property of the TNI-AU or the state. * An underground petroleum depot  has been built to supply fuel for TNI-AU aircraft, located at the TNI-AU airfield in Manuhua. The purpose of this base is to  facilitate raids against groups resisting the TNI-AU. The existence of this depot means that aircraft don't need to return to Jakarta to refuel which facilitates operations against the Papuan people.
  • The satellite to be installed at Tanjung Barari in East Biak is close to the Pacific and thus able to keep a watch-out for Papuans who may want to smuggle weapons from the Pacific as well as being on the lookout for Papuans wishing to seek asylum abroad. No compensation has been paid to the land owners.
  • An ocean harbour is being built. This is also a project in the district of Biak Numfor which the Biak Customary Council considers as having been badly thought out. Why? In 2002, the central government approved the establishment of KAPET, a Comprehensive Economic Development Project. As a result, the administration of Desa Samber relinquished their land for this ocean harbour. However, to this day nothing has happened. Then suddenly, the newly elected district chief, Melianus Yusuf Maryen switched the project to East Biak. We fear that land belonging to the local people will be sold off without any compensation for the villagers who have meanwhile lost their livelihoods because of the location of the project. Following his election, the new district chief announced that the project would be re-located to East Biak. But the local people have already lost their land and gardens because the area is now under the control of the government and is being surrounded by walls and fences. This will separate people from their kampungs. We are also concerned about this ocean harbour because it represents a bargaining chip between the central government and the Biak administration. It paves the way for (a base from which) the military can conduct military operations in Eastern Indonesia. And investors wishing to invest in Indonesia and specifically in Biak will be from countries  of interest to the US, such as China and Singapore.
  • Mapia Island is to become a base for the TNI-AD (army), the TNI-AU (air force), the TNI-AL (navy) and POLRI (police). The island of Mapia is very remote from Biak district and is rarely visited by the security forces. Foreign ships (Thai, Chinese, American and Australian) often sail in these parts. The military are not happy about the presence of these ships, and believes that they are monitoring Indonesian activities in Papua. This anxiety intensified following the flight of 43 Papuans to Australia which occurred without the knowledge of the Indonesian authorities. This resulted in the Indonesians intensifying their efforts to monitor Papuan movements and keep an eye on foreign vessels sailing in the area.
  • The Frans Kaisiepo airfield in Biak has become a military airfield. From 2002-2004, this airfield was extensively used for flights between Honolulu, Biak and Den Pasar by foreign tourists visiting Biak. There was little attention at the time from the authorities. But then, the Indonesian government faced  new problems when the US Congress expressed support for the Papuan people in their struggle for independence, with statements from Congressmen Faleomavaega and Payne. This shocked the Indonesian authorities into undertaking their own lobbying of Congress to thwart support for the Papuan people. As a result they overhauled their strategy and identified the airfields and naval bases as being 'vital'. The military have been deployed as spies, with some of them working as porters, taxi drivers or street cleaners, in order to keep control of the airfields. This has resulted in the local people being afraid to travel to Jayapura, Nabire, Timika and Serui. Papuans confront armed air force personnel wherever they go. Yet people from outside Papua can move around freely without obstruction by the military. Papuan youths who were formerly employed as security guards have been dismissed and their jobs have been taken over by military personnel who are on duty everywhere in the airfields.
  • Not satisfied with this control, three or four military personnel are employed as guards twenty-four hours a day. Local people are prohibited from going anywhere near the airfield or riding their motorbikes through the area, and are prevented from going anywhere near, which they would need to do to work on their gardens.

    IV. Conclusion

    The military presence reminds the Papuan people of our Memori Pasionaris back in 1961 when the Dutch were still in control of Papua and the Indonesians  seized Papua from the Dutch in pursuit of their economic and political interests.  Our people have been marginalized and are powerless to defend their land rights because the military have taken over our lands and destroyed the prosperity of the Papuan people. The military have forcibly destroyed our homes to make way for  homes for air force personnel. We have been removed from our lands without compensation and we are fearful of  going anywhere because of the military presence everywhere.

    As a result of all this, the military are in control everywhere in Papua and especially in Biak Numfor. We are powerless because Biak is being prepared to become a military base for Eastern Indonesia.

    ELSHAM Papua, the Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy, Biak branch, undertook an investigation into this situation in order to report the situation to the UN Human Rights Commission and to solidarity organisations in Europe and Asia. We call upon them to pay serious attention to the situation in Biak because  we fear that a time will come when there will be bloodshed or conflict between the local community and the military as our people lose patience and their self-confidence is destroyed.


(Abridged translation of statement provided by TAPOL)