etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer


West Papua Report
January 2007

This is the 32nd 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.



Increasing tension near the town of Mulia in the Punjak Jaya region of West Papua has raised alarm among human rights activists that a new military campaign by the Indonesian military, intelligence operatives and police may be in preparation.

Earlier in December, the Indonesian military reported that two Indonesian military personal were killed while searching for an armed resistance, pro-Papuan independence element. The armed element briefly took over the town of Mulia on December 24 but then withdrew when it appeared that the Indonesian military would attack the town.

Human rights sources have reported that the Indonesian military commander for the Nabire region was in Mulia in late December. These sources also reported the arrival of new military and police forces in the region, including TNI Battalion 753 from Nabire, Kopassus (the notorious special forces troops), Brimob (Police Mobile Brigade) and intelligence units. Human rights defenders in West Papua also reported that the military build-up has generated tensions in the region. Sources in West Papua and the region informed the West Papua Advocacy Team that as Indonesian elements began mobilizing into Mulia, taking over offices of the local civil authorities, Papuan civilians began to flee into the jungle.

The purported resistance action was unexpected inasmuch as the OPM (Free Papua Movement), the broad umbrella organization that has resisted Indonesian control for decades, has observed a truce in support of political efforts by Papuan civic leaders to end military repression and attain self-determination. Some Papuan accounts indicate collusion between the Indonesian military and the local armed resistance group in Mulia suggesting possible Indonesian military involvement in staging provocations that would provide a rationale for military operations in the area.

Paula Makabory, speaking on behalf of ELSHAM, the most prominent Papuan human rights organization, described the present situation as "very tense and dangerous". In a December 28 statement she said: "I am very concerned that the traditional warriors who are armed with a few rifles and their traditional weapons, which are bows and arrows and spears, will be in conflict with the Indonesian army which is armed with modern weapons. This conflict will cause major casualties among the local traditional warriors and members of the local community. The situation is very tense and dangerous."

Historically, the Indonesian military has exploited incidents such as the reported killing of military personnel as justification for broad military operations encompassing "sweep" operations carried out in broad swarths of territory. These campaigns, which have included extrajudicial killings, torture, the burning of churches and whole villages, as well as the destruction of livestock and gardens, have driven civilians into the jungles where they have no access to food or shelter. In a 2004-2006 military campaign also in the Punjak Jaya district, thousands of Papuans were displaced and scores died. In the period 1996-98, the infamous "Mapenduma campaign" caused even greater suffering among Papuan civilians.

During such military campaigns, already tight restrictions on access to West Papua by journalists, human rights monitors or humanitarian assistance providers, are typically made even more severe. Such restrictions afford the security forces carte blanche to violate fundamental human rights norms and even Indonesian law.


On December 29, Indonesian authorities occupied a church property in West Papua's capital Jayapura and assaulted two Christian pastors, Rev. Seblum Karubya and Rev. Noakh Nawipa. The police action followed a public accusation by the Indonesian minister of defense earlier in 2006 that the Christian church in West Papua, along with international non-government organizations, were promoting independence in West Papua, associating it with the small pro-independence "Free Papua Movement," the OPM. The statement by the senior Indonesian official was viewed by observers as signaling the official "green light" for a campaign of pressure against the leading Papuan Christian congregation.

The police withdrew from the office following two days of peaceful demonstrations by 400 Papuans outside the office but have since alleged that the church is the "religious arm of the West Papuan National Liberation Army."

From 1962 to 1983 the Kingmi Church (established by American missionaries from the Christian and Missionary Alliance) operated independently in West Papua. In 1983, the Church joined the Gereja Kemah Injil Indonesia (The Tabernacle Bible Church of Indonesia). That step was taken in order to ensure that Indonesian authorities would issue visas for foreign missionaries applying to live in West Papua

Prominent pastor and author Rev. Benny Giay has refuted charges that the Church has aligned itself with the pro-independence fighters in West Papua and has explained the church's disaffiliation from the Jakarta central church as a practical step: "When foreign missionaries stopped coming to West Papua we decided that there was no reason to remain under the control of Jakarta. In our congress this year we withdrew our membership from the Gereja Kemah Injil Indonesia and reinstated the Kingmi Church's former status as an independent Synod in West Papua. Jakarta opposes this and accuses us of being separatists" says Pastor Giay. He has specifically rejected police claims that the Church, which has engaged in peaceful efforts to protect human rights in West Papua, has ties to armed elements in West Papua.

Jason MacLeod from the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights (IPAHR) says that the accusation by Jakarta is ominous. "The label 'OPM' is used by the police to silence debate and stigmatize West Papuans on the basis of ethnicity in order to justify repressive security operations. Church leaders in West Papua who speak out for peace and justice are regularly subject to surveillance and intimidation by the security forces."

Pastor Giay, author of numerous books about politics and religious movements in West Papua, holds a PhD from Leiden University in the Netherlands and is well known internationally for his human rights advocacy. He is calling on his international networks to encourage Jakarta to support the right of the Kingmi Church to run their own affairs free of government interference and intimidation.


Reuters reported in early December that New York City Comptroller William Thompson, in his capacity as overseer of New York City's pension funds, has called for a review of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.'s environmental policies and practices in Indonesia. Freeport operates the largest copper and gold mine in the world. It was opened 40 years ago in West Papua, preceding Indonesia's formal annexation of West Papua in 1969 but was nonetheless opened and operated under Indonesian auspices.

The comptroller cited reports that Freeport-McMoRan dumps nearly 230,000 tons of waste, including toxic metals, into Indonesia's river system daily. In addition to long-standing claims by reputable environmental organizations regarding the mine's devastating impact on the local environment, Indonesia's Minister of the Environment in March 2006 accused Freeport of violating water quality regulations. In that same month, a landslide associated with mining in Grasberg killed three people and injured dozens more.

"Freeport McMoRan's poor environmental record needs to be examined," Thompson said in a statement. "The least the company can do is ensure that it is not causing environmental damage to the rivers and in any way harming the people of Indonesia."

The New York City pension fund holds 544,458 Freeport shares worth about $33.6 million. The Pension fund is pressing Freeport to review its environmental practices in Indonesia and will reportedly raise the issue at the 2007 Freeport shareholders meeting. Thompson called for a report to shareholders from that study by next September.

Thompson earlier in 2006 asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate if Freeport payments to the Indonesian military violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Thompson also asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to review Freeport's 2004 and 2005 proxies to determine whether they made misleading statements about those payments.

Freeport also stands accused by both Indonesian and international human rights organizations of complicity in the Indonesian military's widely documented human rights abuse targeting Papuans. That complicity includes Freeport reported material support of Indonesian military operations that have led to the burning of villages and forced evacuation of Papuans to remote jungle areas where they have died as a consequence of the unavailability of food and shelter.


The transition from war to peace in Aceh and the emergence, through a transparent democratic process, of a genuinely Acehnese leadership inevitably raises speculation that a similar bargain between Jakarta and Jayapura might end or at least reduce the tragedy that has engulfed West Papua since its forceful annexation by Indonesia four decades ago.

The bargain in Aceh entailed a willingness by the armed Acehnese resistance (GAM) to set aside its demands for independence and to surrender its arms. In exchange, Jakarta agreed to remove military forces not organic to Aceh and to allow, for the first time, local political parties to form and contest elections. The victory of a former GAM commander in the December 2006 gubernatorial elections, made possible by the Helsinki agreement, was generally welcomed by the Acehenese. The prospect of further gains by Aceh-based parties in the 2009 parliamentary elections suggests the possibility that Aceh may come to enjoy an "autonomy" designed not in Jakarta but in Aceh itself.

Could such a plan work for West Papua? Clearly there are important differences. Many observers believe that the 2004 tsunami was critical in bringing international attention to Aceh, which in turn, served to nourish and protect the peace process and midwife the successful GAM-Jakarta negotiations. Unfortunately, West Papua remains behind an opaque curtain, first drawn across the land by Indonesia when it took effective control of West Papua in 1963. Behind that curtain, the Indonesian military has committed crimes against humanity with the death of scores of thousands of Papuans, the rape of Papuan natural resources, as well as the repression of political, social, economic, religious and cultural rights.

Moreover, the Papuan armed resistance, the small, ill-armed and loosely-organized Papuan pro-independence force, OPM (Free Papua Movement) does not constitute the military challenge to the Indonesian military that the GAM did. Its capacity to bloody the Indonesian military is limited. Many argue in fact that its existence serves the Indonesian military's interests insofar as it functions as a justification for the Indonesian military's presence, thereby enabling the military to conduct broad-ranging legal and illegal businesses, extort legitimate businesses, and obtain promotions and extra "combat" pay.

The OPM generally has observed a self-imposed truce, in support of efforts by Papua's civil society to secure a demilitarization of West Papua and launch a serious dialogue with Jakarta about West Papua's future.

In addition, Jakarta's hapless administration of West Papua has left Papuans with a vastly inadequate infrastructure, abysmal health and education services, and a largely untrained administrative cadre. Any genuinely Papuan chosen administration would face great odds in meeting even basic human needs, even if the long-promised funding under broken promises of autonomy were to begin to flow through uncorrupted channels.

On the other hand, West Papua would clearly benefit from a reduction of the egregious Indonesian military presence Papuans also aspire to meaningful Papuan input on such crucial policy questions as in-migration (regarded as transmigration under another name) and transparent, uncorrupted administration of central government funds. Papuan control over the development of Papuan resources is a basic demand and right long denied the Papuan people.

Any serious, senior-level discussion of such a grand bargain would, as in Aceh, probably require a Papuan abandonment or at least deferment of aspirations for independence. But such a Papuan sacrifice should not be the price for opening such wide-ranging negotiations with Jakarta. Rather, it should be the ultimate Papuan concession in exchange for a comprehensive deal incorporating the full range of Papuans' other aspirations.

Finally, as in Aceh, any improvement in the plight of Papuans would not be possible without strong, public and insistent international demands for justice for Papuans. International engagement in that process, as in its central role in brokering the Aceh bargain, would also be a sine qua non for any just and meaningful outcome.

Back issues of West Papua Report

Support ETAN's Work for Justice!

"I’ve long admired ETAN’s work. For well over a decade, ETAN has conducted some of the most effective  grassroots campaigns I know. With limited resources, they helped free a nation and fundamentally changed policy toward one of the U.S.’s closest and most repressive allies, Indonesia." 
—Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!

Make a monthly pledge via credit card
 click here

subscribe to ETAN's news listserv on East Timor (it's free)





make a pledge via credit card here

Bookmark and Share

Background | Take Action | News | Links | What You Can Do | Resources  | Contact

ETAN Store | Estafeta | ImagesHome | Timor Postings | Search | Site Index |