Congressman’s visit to West Papua severely restricted

6 Jan 2008
Congressman Eni Faleomavaega. member of the US Congress for the Territory of American Samoa, has been a well-known sympathiser of the West Papuan people for many years. After trying to visit the territory early in 2007, the Congressman was finally allowed to make a visit in November 2007 in the hope of meeting ordinary Papuans and government officials. But the constraints on his movement were so extreme that, after returning home, he wrote a strongly critical letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudjoyono.

He said that he originally wanted to visit Papua during his visit to Indonesia in July 2007 but the government did not allow him to travel at that time due to security concerns. "In August, I again requested an opportunity to visit Papua and your government proposed alternative dates to coincide with your invitation for me to also attend the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali in December 2007.”

In good faith, Faleomavaega planned his trip to coincide with the UN conference in Bali in support of President SBY's efforts to implement the provisions of the Special Autonomy Law that was approved by the government of Indonesia in 2001. It was his understanding that he would visit the towns of Biak and Manokwari in Papua, and, most importantly, the capital, Jayapura.

Not allowed to visit Jayapura
However, while enroute to Jakarta, Faleomavaega received word that the Indonesian government would allow him to spend only three days in the provinces of Papua and West Papua and on his arrival on November 25, Faleomavaega was informed that he would be able to spend only two hours and that he would not be allowed to visit Jayapura.
"Having already been denied entry in July of this year and having accommodated your request to postpone my August visit to the last week of November, I was deeply disappointed that upon my arrival I was again denied entry into Jayapura and that my time was reduced from five days to only two hours of actual meetings with the leaders and people of Biak and Manokwari due to supposedly security concerns. Such a decision on the part of your government begs the question, if all is well throughout the provinces of Papua and West Papua, why is security a problem at all?
"Given that President SBY and I had an understanding that I would support his efforts to implement the Special Autonomy Law based on the understanding that this is what the traditional, religious and political leaders of the Papuan people want at this time, it is difficult for me to understand why at every turn I have been denied entry to Jayapura and that my time in Papua and West Papua was reduced from 5 days to two hours. In truth, with the exception of the two days I spent with Freeport officials in Timika, I spent all of two hours in Biak and only 10 minutes on the ground in Manokwari.

"In Biak, I met with Governor Barnabas Suebu and other legislators, traditional and religious leaders selected by the government. During the course of our meeting, a highly respected traditional leader, Chief Tom Beanal, was detained by the military, as was Mr. Willie Mandowen. My staff had to go to the gate of the government guesthouse to request that they be allowed entry to our meeting with Governor Suebu. Papuans who had gathered in the streets in Biak were denied the opportunity to meet with us, and US Ambassador Cameron Hume and I had to force our way through a military barricade just to meet with the Papuan people who had to walk several miles from the airport and wait in the hot sun because Indonesian military forces (TNI) barred them from meeting with Ambassador Hume and me."

Overpowering military presence
"During our meeting in the streets with the Papuan people, which the TNI military limited to less than 5 minutes, I publicly thanked President SBY for allowing me to visit Biak. However, though I did not publicly mention it, I was deeply disturbed by the overpowering military presence, which I felt was completely unnecessary.

"In Manokwari, the military presence was even worse. Prior to my arrival in Manokwari, I was told that I would be meeting with the Governor only to learn upon my arrival at the airport that the Governor was in China. Nonetheless, Ambassador Hume and I were put in a car, without any escort and with only a single traffic police unit in front. While we do not require special privileges, we were very aware that our delegation was not given the necessary escort because the TNI was intent on deceiving the Papuans who had gathered on the streets waiting for us.

"Arriving at the office of the Governor who was in China, and after meeting for less than 10 minutes with the Vice Governor, I was told that due to weather and security concerns, I would need to depart immediately. In no uncertain terms, I was told by the TNI military leaders that Ambassador Hume and I were not welcome in Manokwari."

Hasty departure from Manokwari
"In the TNI's haste to get us out of Manokwari, Ambassador Hume and I were separated and placed in different vehicles. We were again driven along the back roads of Manokwari with no clear indication where we were headed, without any escort, and not one single official of the West Papua government accompanied us back to the airport, meaning we were placed in unfavorable circumstances. While I felt no danger whatsoever from the Papuans who were unarmed and only wanted to meet with us, I was very uncomfortable that the TNI military was so bent on not allowing even a conversation to take place. It was my hope and understanding that I would be able to meet with the people and leaders of both provinces but, when I saw how heavily armed that the TNI military was, I knew that the military had no intention of honoring the commitment that President SBY and I had made in Jakarta in July of this year.

"As I arrived in front of the lobby at the Rendani airport, I was able to briefly walk through the crowd at which time the Papuans handed me a petition and put a Manokwari necklace around my neck. I was also given a stuffed Cenderawasih bird as I made my way to the plane. While there was some concern that the Papuans wanted to block the runway in order to meet with us, due to inclement weather our delegation had to board the aircraft quickly.

"From the window of the plane, I saw pushing and shoving between the heavily armed military and the unarmed Papuans. Banners were also raised. Whether or not anyone was hurt or arrested, I do not know but I have requested that the Indonesian government provide me with assurances that no arrests were made and that no one was harmed. I have also asked President SBY if he is still committed to working together to implement the Special Autonomy Law. As I have explained to him, I will support the Special Autonomy Law and work in the US Congress to make sure the Indonesian government is given every opportunity to make good on its promises to the Papuan people based on the understanding that this is also the consensus of the traditional, religious and political leaders of both provinces."

Nothing done to help Papuans
"However, as long as the TNI military forces of Indonesia continue to deny Members of Congress real access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua, especially Jayapura, it will be difficult for me to support the goals of Special Autonomy when clearly the Papuans in these two provinces are still being intimidated, harassed and abused by the TNI. Likewise, I do not consider two hours in Biak and 10 minutes in Manokwari as access. Until I am allowed to visit Jayapura, as I have been promised, and until I am allowed to meet with the people of Papua, as President SBY and I agreed, I cannot in good conscience inform my colleagues in Congress that progress is being made to implement the Special Autonomy Law which has mostly remained dormant since 2001 and, since for the past 60 years, until President SBY's leadership, the government of Indonesia has done absolutely nothing to help the Papuan people who only want to be treated humanely.

"I do commend President SBY for his efforts to implement the Special Autonomy Law which is supposed to ensure the civil rights and liberties of the Papuan people and, at this time, I still believe we can work together in cooperation with Freeport Mining, USAID, OPIC, and the traditional, religious, and political leaders of both provinces to strengthen the Special Autonomy Law. But, whether or not we move forward is entirely up to President SBY and those who control the activities of Indonesia's TNI military forces."

In conclusion, the Congressman wrote: "While I appreciate the constraints President SBY is under, I remain hopeful that we can overcome these obstacles and establish a more stable environment that is mutually beneficial for Jakarta and the Papuan people.’