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West Papua Report
September 2006


This is the 31st in a series of monthly reports that focuses on developments affecting Papuans. This reporting series is produced by the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. The West Papua Advocacy Team is a non-profit organization.


Growing International Concern over Failed Development in West Papua

In an unprecedented show of concern, over 40 representatives of international donors traveled to West Papua in September in an effort to address Jakarta's decades of failed development policy in West Papua. The group, which included representatives of the World Bank, told media that such visits in the past had been virtually impossible because of constraints imposed by Jakarta. The Australian Financial Review, in a September 29 report on the delegation's visit, noted that West Papua had long been a "no-go area" for such international visits. For many years Jakarta has required international visitors to obtain a "surat jalan" or travel permit which was extremely difficult to obtain and which, if obtained, imposed severe restrictions on movement within West Papua. It remains to be seen whether international assistance for the Papuans might still be blocked by Jakarta's resistance to follow-up teams of international donors seeking to develop assistance programs.

Journalist Details Difficulties of Reporting From West Papua

Contradicting recent claims by the International Crisis Group that conditions in West Papua are not as onerous as claimed by the great majority of human rights advocates, the Australian Broadcasting Company's Geoff Thompson who recently managed to enter West Papua, described the environment there as that of a "police state." In addition to intrusive intelligence monitoring of his legitimate journalistic work Thompson observed that he was not allowed to speak to human rights groups.

Jakarta's efforts to prevent international monitoring of human rights abuse which has also included denial of visa requests by special UN human rights rapporteurs among many others appears to have succeeded in persuading some that human rights abuses which do not receive international coverage, simply do not exist.

Papuans and Their Supporters Campaign Against Indonesian-Australian Security Treaty

Australians and Papuans are appealing to the Australian government not to sign a security treaty with Indonesia which, at Indonesian insistence, demands that Canberra does not support calls for Papuan self-determination and especially any course that might lead to its independence.

For many years, Canberra maintained a highly-isolated position with regards to East Timor. It officially accepted the Jakarta version of the Indonesian aggression against East Timor and the subsequent 24 years of brutal Indonesian repression of the East Timorese. Canberra was able to extract, in exchange for its diplomatic help, a highly beneficial off-shore resource development arrangement from Indonesia in a corrupt bargain that sullied Australia's reputation. Speculation ranges widely over the likely Indonesian quid pro quo to be offered Australia on this occasion.

Papuan Detainees Receive Tough Sentences

Papuan students accused of failing to obey police orders during the March 16 demonstrations in Abepura continued to receive harsh sentences in court decisions handed down during September. All but two of the 23 detainees have been sentenced, with the great majority receiving sentences of between four and five years in jail. The penalties are seen by observers as too harsh given the relatively minor nature of the charged offense, i.e., "failing to obey police orders." Several of the detainees' "confessions" to having also thrown stones at security officials are questionable given the defendants claims that they were beaten and otherwise coerced into making the "confessions." Complaints of abuse are supported by eyewitness accounts of police attacks on the defendants, resulting in the hospitalization of one defendant.

Observers also recall that special forces (Kopassus) personnel convicted of what the judge in the case described as the 2001 "torture-murder" of Papuan rights defender Theys Eluay received sentences entailing a maximum of three and one half years in jail. The Indonesian army Chief of Staff at the time publicly described the convicted murderers as "Indonesian heroes."

Growing Tension on the West Papuan - Papua New Guinea Border

Australia has quietly deployed approximately 200 troops to the border between West Papua and Papua New Guinea. A Papuan source with contacts in Australia reports to WPAT that four Australian military colonels have joined approximately 200 troops in Papua New Guinea, including approximately 120 in Vanimo, in the wake of developments along the border that have given rise to security concerns. The troops include Australian intelligence units. The Australian deployment reportedly reflects Canberra's concern about potential chaos in the border area resulting in instability in West Papua, but also growing concern about Indonesian military/intelligence activities in the border area. Australian media accounts, in reports denied by Jakarta, claim that PNG forces have intercepted two naval intrusions in the Vanimo area recently. Other reports claim extensive involvement of the Indonesian military in logging and other illegal activities in the PNG.

Adding to the confusion in the border area are claims of ongoing human rights abuse. Nick Chesterfield, an Australian who recently returned from the border area has told the Australian Broadcasting Company that in the border region there is "strong evidence" that Indonesian security elements are forming "death squads" which, he claimed are "randomly targeting Papuans, not on the basis of any political affiliation, but on the basis of race." He explained that "in the Asa and Wembi areas we interviewed many survivors from some of these operations."

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