Subject: AGE: Australia's Papua stance not helping Indonesian democrats

Australia's Papua stance not helping Indonesian democrats

By Kenneth Davidson April 20, 2006

The Government is playing with the lives of West Papuans.

Australia's foreign policy establishment seems incapable of learning from recent history. Australia is following the old East Timor policy of appeasement on West Papua.

It will fail too because opinion in Australia (and elsewhere) will become sickened by the increasingly repressive Indonesian state terrorism that will be required to destroy the movement for self-determination.

This policy is not doing the democratically elected Government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono any favours in promising to co-operate with the Indonesian military (TNI) to make it difficult for refugees to escape from rights abuses in West Papua.

By adopting the Pacific Solution instead of taking refugees directly into Australia, the prospect is that the problem of asylum will be internationalised. When the next boatload of West Papuan refugees is turned back with the assistance of the Australian navy, or is diverted to one of Australia's client states, and the refugee status of the boat people has to be assessed by the UNHCR or the Red Cross and other countries are asked to provide asylum because of Australia's meanness, the international hubbub is unlikely to be to the advantage of either Australia or Indonesia.

Since coming to office in 2004, Yudhoyono has been trying to shift power from the TNI and bring it under civilian control. The Pacific Solution will shore up the TNI and weaken his authority.

The TNI receives only 30 per cent of its budget from the central government. The balance comes from a mixture of legal and illegal businesses, including logging and protection rackets.

In East Timor, TNI's main source of income was from coffee, sandalwood and marble and in West Papua it is from illegal logging, smuggling rare fauna and the massive gold and copper Freeport mine.

The best chance the Indonesian Government has to stop the flow of refugees and contain the pressure for Papuan independence is to stop the transmigration program, demilitarise the province and offer West Papua genuine autonomy.

According to Dr Clinton Fernandes, senior lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, there is still a chance that West Papuans may be willing to settle for autonomy. He points out that the Papuan catchcry "Merdeka" can still be understood as "a moral crusade for peace and social justice on earth", not necessarily as a rallying cry for independence.

He points out that the military commander who was in charge of West Papua, Mahidin Simbolon, served six tours of duty in East Timor and was a key actor in the Indonesian military campaign of state-sponsored terror against the East Timorese.

"In 2001, Simbolon was promoted to major-general and given command of West Papua. The same militia tactics from East Timor began to be employed there soon afterwards," Fernandes says.

The US non-government organisation Global Witness's 2005 report, Paying for protection: the Freeport mine and the Indonesian security services, which examines who was responsible for the murder of three teachers (two American and one Indonesian) employed by the mine in an ambush in August 2002, singles out Simbolon for special mention as he was being paid directly by Freeport, rather than through the Government or military.

The murders were investigated by the Indonesian police, led by I. Made Pastika, who investigated the Bali terrorist bombings in October 2002.

His leaked preliminary report, in the records of the US Congress, concluded "there is a strong possibility that the (ambush) was perpetrated by the members of the TNI".

Statements to the investigation claimed the soldiers had carried out the ambush to extort more from Freeport.

An FBI investigation of the murders also initially pointed towards the Indonesian military as prime suspects, based in part on evidence by witnesses organised by the Indonesian human rights group Elsham.

According to an Indonesian human rights blog (Paras Indonesia) on January 10 and 11, 2006, there were two meetings in Timika between two FBI agents and witnesses who were promised that those accused by the TNI would get a fair hearing in the US.

Instead, the delegation was arrested by a police taskforce minutes after the FBI officials left the meeting. The blog details the names of the FBI agents and details of those detained, including two boys who would have been 11 and 12 at the time of the ambush.

The Global Witness report points out that Simbolon was the military commander of East Timor when torture by soldiers was prevalent and was known to have been chief of staff of the regional military command, whose troops committed crimes against humanity in East Timor.

According to Fernandes, an Australian intelligence officer leading up to East Timor's liberation, TNI is still coming to terms with its loss of power in a democratising Indonesia.

An Australian government, concerned about the country's long-term interest in the region, would be backing those democratising forces to help create the space in which Yudhoyono can win against the thugs in TNI who were responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor and who are repeating the exercise in West Papua.

Kenneth Davidson is a senior columnist.


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