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  Asia-Pacific
Papuan Fault Lines: Part V
Smoke and Mirrors Surrounding West Papua's Cycle of Violence
By John M. Gorrindo
Indonesian Correspondent
Papua New Guinea dancers

Three events in the last several weeks both embody the nature of West Papua’s cycle of separatist violence and contribute to its perpetuation. The narrative is all too familiar.

First, on Dec. 17, 2009, Indonesia’s National Police announced that they had shot and killed Kelly Kwalik, the leader of an armed faction of the pro-independence Free Papua Movement, better known as the OPM (Operasi Papua Merdeka). The news release claimed that the police “had no option” but to shoot Kwalik who purportedly resisted arrest during a police house raid in Timika, Papua.

Kwalik was wanted for involvement in a 2002 ambush of a convoy of buses that killed a U.S. national near the Freeport gold and copper mine, long a symbol of both Indonesian and foreign capitalist hegemony over the human rights and economic interests of the indigenous West Papuan peoples. Police said Kwalik was also “believed” to have been behind a string of armed attacks in the Freeport area that left eight people dead, three of them foreigners, between June and November of 2009.

Andreas Anggaibak, a fellow West Papuan and former chair of the 1999-2004 Mimika District Legislative Council- and not a politician who favors armed struggle as do some factions of the OPM- denied these accusations.

Many West Papuans, in fact, believe that either Indonesian security forces or disgruntled Freeport mine security personnel orchestrated many of these ongoing sniper attacks on Freeport mining personnel in order to fabricate misplaced blame onto the OPM, thus legitimizing continued raids and violence against the armed group and their supporters at the hands of such Indonesian security forces such as Kopassus, Brimob, the National Police, and TNI (the Indonesian army).

An official commendation and celebration party thrown for the fifty National Police who participated in the Kwalik house raid and killing riled Timika’s indigenous population, many of them members of the Amungme tribe that has been forced off there land by the Freeport mining development started back in the early part of Suharto’s reign.

Within just a span of a few days this past week, two more events helped to exacerbate Timika’s already raw nerves. First, Major General Hotma Marbun was appointed to the Military Command for the Kodam-XVII Cenderawasih region of West Papua. A long-time Special Forces (Kopassus) officer, Marbun has a twenty-five year history of having participated in some of the bloodiest operations known in both East Timor and West Papua, particularly during the 1980’s. His rise to regional command is both feared and protested by many West Papuans and West Papuan observers who see Kopassus’ dark security role in the region given that much more sway.

Lastly, and almost in synchrony with Major General Hotma Marbun’s appointment, yet another ambush left six wounded near the U.S. company Freeport McMoRan’s gold and copper mine. Three policeman and three mine workers were either shot or otherwise hurt subsequent to a sniper attack on a convoy of buses and land cruisers heading to the coastal city of Timika from out of the mountains where the Grasberg mine is located.

Again, this news release came from the offices of the National Police. The perpetrators have yet to be found, and the attack is no less mysterious as compared to the many other shootings that have occurred over several years.

But to many, the National Police give the appearance of having taken the law into their own hand as per the killing of Kwalik. They claim he resisted arrest, though his killing is naturally suspected by some to have been extra-judicial in nature. Extra-judicial killings as perpetrated by Indonesian security forces have been common in West Papua for decades, and the green light given police raiding parties is a well-entrenched way of doing dirty business in the war against West Papuan separatism. Kwalik’s killing was not just another trademark brutality common to Indonesian security policy, but a bloody reminder of who really rules in West Papua.

That Kwalik’s killing was quickly followed by this week’s Freeport mine ambush provides Indonesian hardliners with vindication for their often violent response to their adversaries. They can easily justify their brutal tactics in the West Papuan separatist war by citing Freeport mining ambushes to be retaliatory in nature, and most likely committed by Kwalik’s OPM followers. This rationale has served Indonesia’s security forces well for decades, and most in the Indonesian government as well as the Indonesian public seem satisfied with the need for strong security measures. There are many hot-button issues bubbling along in Jakartan current mix of political yeast, but West Papua ranks low on the list.

This smoke and mirrors game of “whodunit” that surrounds two armed opponents baiting and goading each other into a cycle of never ending violent response is ironically similar to the West Papuan tit-for-tat history of tribal raids and so-called “ritual warfare” between neighboring clans and ethnic groups that has often been the subject of many anthropological studies as widely distributed around the world since the 1960’s.

But the comparison abruptly ends there as the West Papuan armed resistance is utterly overmatched by the number and power of Indonesian security forces, and there is nothing ritualistic in a purported 100,000 West Papuans having lost their lives to Indonesian-inflicted violence since the day the region was handed over by the Dutch. And many pro-West Papuan independence supporters believe that Indonesia has no interest in truly developing the human resources and infrastructure of West Papua, no matter how much funding floods the region. According to this conventional wisdom, what Jakarta’s elite really has in mind is to use West Papua as a huge reservoir of natural resource extraction and allow Indonesian security forces a run of the region in order to keep the resources flowing in export without interruption, all the while taking their cut.

The vested capitalist interests- both foreign and domestic, and which includes the Indonesian military itself as it runs their own private business enterprise out of West Papua- are the real rulers of the vast island. Without them, the Indonesian government couldn’t manage a lick. The record has shown that Jakarta has thrown trillions of rupiah at West Papuan development, but has failed miserably for the most part- especially in terms of promoting health, education, and general human welfare. The ongoing failure of all political parties involved to find a joint solution to ending West Papuan violence can attribute such failure as to the inability to compete with elite interests, most of which are economic and in command on the ground. The resulting intractability can be compared to other vicious political quagmires more widely publicized- such as found in Israel-Palestinian relations or the decades-long conflict between Tamal rebels and the Sri Lankan government.

Experts on West Papua- many of them Australian academics- disagree on which road to peace best be followed. But most academics and politicians alike- whether Indonesian or otherwise- tend to believe that proper implementation of the already ratified Special autonomy agreement put into place in 2001 is the only real feasible solution to ending brutality and blood letting in West Papua.

Special autonomy agreements have been the center piece of Indonesian governmental policy in Jakarta’s attempt to solve the regional power disputes as found in both Aceh and West Papua. While implementations in Aceh have achieved some stated objectives and brought some stability as based on transparent fair dealing to the region, efforts in West Papua have been less than half-hearted on the part of the Indonesian government and can only be deemed inept and a failure to date.

The tragedy in this lies not only in continue economic disparity and human rights abuses suffered by indigenous West Papuans, but in the diminishing hope that the one and only official instrument ever enacted to address the perennial crisis in West Papua forever stalled can ever be revived. Tragedy it is because there seems non-existent any other viable alternative. And as for the autonomy agreement itself, the political will to full implementation doesn’t currently exist.

In this last of a five part series on Papuan fault lines, what follows is an in-part summary as concerns the complex set of factors contributing to the economic and political status quo in West Papua. All this is back drop to possibly the single most important influence not yet explored in this series- the international community’s present role and response to the West Papuan question- and whether a true internationalization of the issue can help make progress for future peace.

Ironically, there exists substantive agreement both inside and outside of Indonesia as to the root causes of secessionist sympathies and armed struggle in West Papua. When President Megawati Sukarnoputri delivered the West Papuan Special Autonomy agreement (OTUS) in 2001, it was clear that Indonesia’s non-military, government elite had been forced to admit to a multitude of failures in West Papua, if not outright sins. Government inability to incorporate West Papua peacefully and humanely into the republic was manifest. Through the lens of the Special Autonomy agreement a remarkably true-to-life portrait of West Papua’s status emerges, if only because a broad consensus between concerned parties confirms it.

The post-Suharto democratic movement in Indonesia allowed government reformers who came to power the unusual luxury and political license of turning a momentous corner in the republic’s young history. As political proxies, Indonesia’s first generation of democratic leaders could say “mea culpa” on behalf of a deposed Suharto while simultaneously distancing themselves from him; faulting dictatorial rule and policies that proceeded while dedicating itself to reform. The grievous wounds that the first phase of Indonesia’s nationalism and Suharto’s New Order had inflicted on distinct portions of the population had through the shock of social protest economic ruin come to be acknowledged by those in power, and there was promoted a certain political will to redress the most pressing of those grievances. It so happened that regional separatism in Aceh and West Papua were considered top priority.

Core issues that fueled regional separatism were common to both Aceh and West Papua, both conflicts having gained acute immediacy due to a complex of international advocacy groups pressuring Indonesia to right their wrongs. Wrongs don’t achieve critical mass in the realm of moral advocacy without the proper catalyst that raises heightened awareness, and in the case of internationalizing Indonesia’s internal divisions, that “everything” to do with the East Timor independence struggle.

The short and long analysis of East Timor’s road to sovereignty plainly places that tiny country’s fate in the hands of U.S. foreign policy, and offers one more piece of proof of just how powerful U.S. influence still is in regional world matters. Last year’s release of formerly classified U.S. government documents verify that as requested, President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger gave Suharto the green light to invade East Timor as transpired in a 1975 meeting between the three leaders in Jakarta. For the next quarter century Indonesia waged a relentless war against one of the poorest and most defenseless populations in the world, hoping to incorporate the eastern half of the greater Timor island after former colonial power Portugal pulled out after some four hundred and sixty years of influence, occupation, or outright colonization.

As officially publicized, rationale for Indonesian intervention was predictably attributed to Indonesia concern over territorial integrity and national security. As Suharto slowly lost the cover the Cold War had provided him as well as grip on power after the 1998 Asian economic crisis, President Clinton with aid from the U.N. suddenly switched the green light to red thus signaling the beginning of the end of Indonesian occupation which soon led to the birth of the Timor L’este nation. Suharto could no longer get away with the free exercise of wanton brutality. The international community would no longer sit by and allow the dictator a free reign of death as exacted against a long-suffering half-island for which everyone suddenly seemed to now have a huge heart.

Under Suharto’s first successor, President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, Indonesia reluctantly agreed in 1999 to a referendum process in East Timor. The vote would be monitored by the United Nations with a peace keeping force on hand, its team internationally composed and armed to ensure a fair and peaceful election. As was the case in the 1969 West Papuan “Act of Free Choice” election, their referendum was to poll the East Timorese as to whether they favored independence or incorporation into Indonesia.

A vast array of international advocacy groups had long supported the East Timorese cause, and their efforts help bear fruit in bringing pressure to bear upon the international community to respond to the horrific human rights violations and alleged war crimes occurring with impunity in East Timor.

West Papua’s own referendum a quarter century previously enjoyed none of the international support that galvanized around beleaguered East Timor which lost some 30% of its population due to war casualties in the protracted conflict. Everything that had conspired to help lift East Timor into a nation state had otherwise worked in opposition in the case of West Papua.

Equivalent in importance to East Timor’s fair elections as mentioned was the sham counterpart of West Papua’s “Act of Free Choice” in 1969. Though some governments and international bodies have raise legal question to the U.N. mandated and monitored process (as forced to the fore by U.S. President John F. Kennedy whose ambition it was to see Papua ceded over to Indonesia), there has been next to no clamor disputing Indonesia’s territorial claims over West Papua. Currently there exists in effect no official support or dedicated forum for redressing West Papuan human rights complaints let alone issues surrounding independence in either the United Nations or amongst any of the international community’s democratic nations. West Papua has long been acknowledged as belonging to Indonesia, and again, United States foreign policy was primarily responsible for cementing that view into place.

What can be learned from the split reaction? The two regions of East Timor and West Papua do share some commonalities as they have both been colonized and otherwise oppressed, but their political statuses have varied enough to make all the difference. If for the greater purposes of the best policy negotiable as serves the greatest number of country’s and the highest percentage of the world’s population, the status quo international community deemed it necessary to simply overlook or forget the West Papuan crisis. It just didn’t measure up in importance and intervention was considered a no-win option that would upset world order.

The list of grievances for which West Papua seeks redress is unfortunately all too common in countries around the world- but West Papua doesn’t possess nation-status. As politics is the art of the feasible, the crux of that feasibility balances on a fulcrum of legal accords and treaties all internationally binding. Legal rule as leveraged by the U.N. and the World Court for example has demonstrated at times the ability to impose itself upon conflicts between nation states, but as imposed on internal disputes within a sovereign nation, such legal interventions rarely carry much weight. More often than not it is effectively dismissed as either illegal or unjustified meddling, worthy of scorn and being ignored. In the case of East Timor, it was an in-limbo ex-colony that when freed by the Portuguese eventually choose to become independent before and after a bloody war prompted international intervention as civilian casualties took on terrible proportions. Never having been incorporated into another political unit, East Timor maintained the most powerful of statuses- non-aligned, unincorporated, and seeking to be free. International law best serves independent countries- or those with a good case for achieving such status- and East Timor became a rallying point for worldwide sympathy. Indonesia suffered its one and only major defeat in the face of opposing world opinion. In addition, strong policies concerning decolonization have taken precedence since the formation of the United Nations in 1945, and these policies served East Timor’s cause handsomely, too.

In other words, it is not enough for West Papua as a collection of three Indonesian provinces to complain, for example, that through the power of eminent domain Indonesia has stripped Papuan tribes of their age old customary land rights and handed their land over to multi-national corporations who can exploit it as they see fit while sharing very little of the profits of resource extraction with the natives displaced. In the case of Freeport’s Grasberg mine, one of the Papuan tribes who suffered the greatest displacement was the Amungme- there is some good news here, though, as after decades of demanding reparations from Freeport for polluting their lands with tailings dumped into the watershed as well as being forced to live in swamplands less fit for survival all aspects considered, the Amungme have been able to negotiate some reasonable profit sharing revenues, though not everything they were promised by Freeport has been delivered.

Having said that, neither is it enough to successfully complain in some international court or before some United Nations commission that compensation should be awarded for such internal displacement of tribal members as described nor for damage due to pollution and environmental degradation which endangers their ability to survive according to their traditional habits of hunting, gathering food and raising small crop plots.

In the case of Freeport and the Amungme, the multi-national giant found it in their best public relation’s interest to deal with Amungme directly, but only after years of demands.

And finally, it is apparently not even enough for West Papua to complain to the United Nations that human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces which often double as security for multi-national, foreign investment groups can terrorize and kill indigenous Papua peoples extra-judicially and at will. As the foreign press is barred from entry into West Papua and at times such restrictions have applied to groups such as the International Red Cross, the dearth of verifiable information has resulted in smoke and mirrors that cloud any concerted view into Papua. This condition persists and undermines attempts to “legitimize” human rights complaints.

In practical truth, demographics mostly govern international response to human rights violations. None of the aforementioned grievances hold any weight as in the final analysis, we are talking about the unfair treatment of only a very small fraction of the Indonesian population- less than one percent- and a population often divided within itself as distinguished by ethnicity or tribal association with few ties to friends of political consequence outside the region, and representative of an aboriginal way of life that has outlived its evolutionary purpose and time as concerns most of the developed world.

When John F. Kennedy forced the New York agreement on the Dutch which first ceded control of Papua over to Indonesia in 1961, he said as much about the backwardness and non-consequentiality of the hordes of Papuan cannibal tribes as they were still popularly described at the time. Kennedy’s offensive written remarks as quoted from a letter he personally wrote to the Dutch government in efforts to strong arm them into diplomatic submission are now part of public record as they, too, have been released.

Today, political correctness is more closely adhered to in presidential letters; and multi-culturalism- even in its stone age form- is often a cause célèbre which serves to bind nations together more than divide them. But this is just so much window dressing, as the United States, NATO, and the United Nations could muster legal resolve while intervening in the Serbian-Bosnia-Herzegovina-Kosovo-Montenegro-Croatia debacle during the 1990’s, even though technically speaking, that was an internal conflict occurring within the borders of one sovereign nation, Yugoslavia. The fact that this war was happening in Eastern Europe, involved Europeans, and featured ethnic and religious cleansing had everything to do with the intervention. It is further proof that a double standard exists when it comes to the sensitive question of intervening in a sovereign nation’s internal disputes.

What emerges is that a decision taken by international forces to intervene in a nation’s internal disputes is a matter of international will as opposed to rule of law, and where there is an international will, there is an international way.

This is not to say that foreign intervention in West Papua is a feasible solution or even desirable as concerns even the most adamant of West Papuans freedom fighters. But the armed factions of the OPM and numerous other unarmed and non-violent political organizations run by West Papuan peoples are all well aware that their cause will likely get nowhere without international support. Australia is a key player in the formulation of any peace formula, and heretofore their historical role in the West Papuan struggle presents yet one more entry into a rarefied atmosphere of smoke and mirrors.

Australian-Indonesian relations have been more mutually convivial than not post-East Timor independence, but Australia in particular has had to walk a tight-rope between public opinion at home and Jakarta’s policy as they concern West Papua. Many thousands of very active voices have registered their horror concerning conditions in West Papua- many with religious overtones- and the government at times has had to at least in token respond.

But Australian foreign policy is real politik-driven as regards Indonesia. (In fact, that is almost exclusively true across the international spectrum as effects Indonesia) Indonesia, too, scored a coup of sorts by successfully negotiating with Australia the 2006 Lombok Treaty, a treaty roundly criticized by many human rights organizations for emphasizing security ties, and unquestioned support for the free actions of the respective militaries involved with no mention or status given the monitoring of the Indonesian military’s human rights’ record. In other words, the Indonesian military had gotten Canberra to sign-on to a treaty which assured Australia would keep off their backs and give them free reign in places such as West Papua.

On the other hand, Australia has at times shown distinct sympathy to West Papuan Asylum seekers, even if only in response to complaints from Christian organizations in Australia whose hearts went out to their fellow West Papuan Christians stranded at sea while hoping to escape persecution back home. Canberra has had to rush hat in hand to Jakarta and politely explain to the foreign ministry that when it came to asylum policies international treaties trumped “regional cooperation” as per extradition requests, and that showing asylum seekers all due process was in keeping with being a good international citizen. Indonesia has shown some patience with this point of view as witnessed by their own liberal policies as concerns their treatment of many hundreds of recent asylum seekers from as far away as Afghanistan and Myanmar who have come ashore in boats several times in many parts of Indonesia.

But as for the bigger policy picture, Canberra is in full support of Indonesia’s territorial integrity as so defined, and would likely never jeopardize its strategically important relationship with its neighbor over the West Papuan issue. This is a substantial observation, especially given the fact that however hesitantly, Australia did play a direct role- including interdiction of troops- in helping East Timor realize independence.

This leaves us with what is still the biggest international player in national power brokering, and that is the United States. In preparation for this report, I contacted two U.S. congressmen who in March 2008 co-jointly submitted a letter of concern to the Secretary General of the United Nations as related to human rights abuses as committed by Indonesian security forces against the West Papuan peoples. The two men- Rep. Faleomavaega of American Samoa and Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey’s 10th congressional district- are amongst the very few elected officials in the entire United States that have gone on record concerning West Papua, and Faleomavaega actually visited West Papua in 2007, only to be treated shoddily, restricted in his movements, and forced to exit West Papua before the pre-arranged time of departure. It was a ghastly diplomatic faux pas which flies in the face of the customary graciousness of Indonesian hospitality. The event got short shrift at best in not only international press, but in the United States as well.

Faleomavaega’s mistreatment illustrates not only Indonesian hyper-sensitivity and contempt for those who question Jakarta’s West Papuan policies, but also how non-existent West Papua is to Washington. It’s light years away from appearing on the radar screen.

The majority of international voices that rally themselves to the West Papuan cause end up siding with a full implementation of the already ratified Special Autonomy treaty. What remains is a group of journalists, academics, environmental rights advocates, human rights concerns, assorted NGO’s, Christian religious organizations, and various sundry other lone voices in the wilderness who bark at the moon collectively, beseeching the world to help free Papua. Their advocacy is steeped in moral conviction, and for that, they are criticized by those more moderate voices whose reasoning answer to real politik values.

After four decades of Indonesian incorporation, a small minority of West Papuans are beginning to materially benefit from the slow implementation of regional development programs as funded by the central government. (These Papuans tend to inhabit the north and north-western coastal areas as the coastal tribes have benefited much more from Indonesianization than have the highlanders who constitute well over half the indigenous population) This is especially visible in terms of education. Young, educated West Papuans are beginning to become mobile and in growing numbers are able to freely move into other areas of Indonesia for such reasons as seeking higher education. It might be said that the Indonesian government is “happy to help” those individuals in West Papua who would become Indonesian so-to-speak, play according to Indonesian rules, and in so doing shed their aboriginal culture. That much can be said for both the social and government contract Jakarta has with the indigenous West Papuans. Some refer to this process of surrendering aspects of one’s cultural heritage as “Javanization.”

But as for those who will not fall into line, we can only expect a perpetuation of the cycle of violence as described in the first part of this article. West Papua is only funded by the Indonesian government- and in all practical terms it doesn’t offer the average West Papuan protection vis-à-vis rule of law. Since incorporation, West Papua has always been run and operated by Indonesian security forces. They answer to no one save their commanders in far too many cases. The cycle of violence in place is still in the military’s interest, as they can justify their presence in disproportionately high numbers, as well as explain away their brutality in accordance to security concerns. So too they can continue to conduct both legal and illegal business in the resource-richest Indonesian province, and in double-dip by negotiating lucrative security contracts with foreign interests such as Freeport mines. Without full military reform in Indonesia- which means both full civilian control over the TNI and complete government funding of its budget- West Papua along with many other remote, underdeveloped, and resource-rich locations in the country will suffer accordingly.

And as long as the international community stands by in deference to the order of things in West Papua, don’t hold your breath and expect any change. West Papua’s time in the international spotlight has not yet come; nor does it appear on the horizon.

It is not far afield to see the West Papuan fate- at least culturally- to fall somewhere along a spectrum of inevitable cultural loss that befell their black brothers and sisters in America. Sometimes bargaining for freedom means losing something as precious in the bargain. At some point in time, black Americans were forced to assimilate, and in doing so, had to bargain away some of their cultural roots- most principally their native languages- in order to enjoy even a modicum of reasonable citizenship status. Doubtless black Americans would have never been afforded freedom if they had chosen to revive their African roots while rejecting their New World surroundings as controlled by whites, even though that possibility became increasingly unlikely with each succeeding generation being that much more cut off from their ancestry.

The West Papuans, though, have a chance to retain much of their culture, though some of it will no doubt disappear. The one thing that they have going for them in that regard is that regional culture is extraordinarily important in Indonesia as a whole. It is vivid in expression and in terms of holding its own, often resistant to homogenization by outside influences. West Papuans will most likely be forced to learn just where their openings for cultural preservation and self-identification lie. The answer will be in part found, however ironic it may sound, is in being mobile and mixing with the greater population of the vast Indonesian archipelago.



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Mr. John M. Gorrindo, who serves as an Indonesian correspondent for The Seoul Times, is a native-born Californian. As holder of a MA degree in music composition from the University of California, he made Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia his home after serving as a volunteer English teacher there. He also a writes fictions and composes music. Some of his writings and music can be found at Fringing reefs and Vertical Walls: http://johngorrindo.blogspot.com

 

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