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West Papua Report
May 2007


This is the 36th in a series of monthly reports that focus 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.


David Defeats Goliath in West Papua

Indonesia experienced an earthquake of sorts on April 22 when peaceful but determined workers scored an unprecedented victory in West Papua, forcing the gold and copper mine giant Freeport McMoRan to concede virtually all the demands workers had pressed in a brief but well-organized strike that shut down production.

Freeport McMoRan has faced many popular risings in desperate reaction to decades of rapacious mining practices which robbed local Amungme and Kamoro people of their patrimony, its complicity in Indonesian military human rights abuse and its environmental devastation. But this confrontation was different in one key respect: Freeport lost and the people won. The Papuan strikers were not intimidated by a military and police show of force in the Timika area during the strike.

Workers won nearly a doubling of a workers' monthly basic salary. Freeport also agreed to reestablish its Papuan Affairs Department and replace several executives who the workers saw as disrespectful in their dealings with Papuan employees.

Clearly not all Papuan concerns were addressed in the settlement. Papuans make up only approximately one third of the 9,000 employees at the West Papua mining site. Moreover, few Papuan employees rise to management level reflecting a latent racism that infects corporate and government structures throughout West Papua. As a Jakarta Post editorial noted: "Human rights abuses, the unequal distribution of wealth and the disrespect shown by the central government toward Papuans are among the major complaints in the province."

April 28 marks a great victory for Papuan workers and more broadly for the Papuan people. The victory scored by these peaceful workers vindicates a strategy of peaceful but assertive non-violence advocated by Papuan civil society in the face of enormous provocations. Papuan workers at Freeport have scored a victory that may have reverberations like those of other earthquakes in places and times of racial, social and political repression such as in the U.S. in the 1960s and South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.

Growing Popular Discontent over Failure of Special Autonomy

Approximately 1,000 Papuans staged a three-hour demonstration on May 1 in Manokwari. Demonstrators, organized by the Communication Center of Cenderawasih Youth, demanded the dispatch of a U.N. mission to West Papua, to conduct a review of the "Act of Free Choice" through which Indonesia annexed West Papua, the inclusion of West Papua in the UN's Decolonization Committee as a territory whose political status has yet to be justly addressed, possibly through a referendum, and for the Government of Indonesia to acknowledge the failure of "Special Autonomy." During the demonstration, Indonesian jet aircraft flew low over the demonstrators in an apparent, unsuccessful effort to intimidate the demonstrators.

On April 27, the "Coalition of Students and people Who Care about Papua" issued a declaration with similar demands as those voiced by the Manokwari demonstrators. The declaration documented specific human rights violations committed by security forces since the implementation of "Special Autonomy," noted the absence of basic services in West Papua ranging from health care to education, underscored the problem of worsening unemployment and the problem of endemic corruption which has siphoned off funds purportedly provided under "special autonomy." The declaration also noted Papuan opposition to the creation of new provinces and regencies absent consultation with the Papuan people and in violation of the "special autonomy" law. The declaration demanded a senior level dialogue between Papuans and Jakarta by August 10, 2007. If such a dialogue is not initiated, the declaration calls for consideration of "another option."

Meanwhile, a group of Papuan business people has called for an end to the "Special Autonomy" status for Papua. It claimed that after six years the special status has failed to produce tangible benefits for the Papuan people, notably in the areas of health and education. The group, the "Papuan Indigenous Business People" in demonstrations at the Provincial Parliament building in Jayapura, called for a comprehensive dialogue between Papuans and the Indonesian Government with the participation by an independent third party. The model appears similar to that successfully embraced in addressing decades of repression in Aceh in 2006. The Papuan Indigenous Business People is part of the Council of Customary West Papuan Chiefs which, in 2005, organized a 10,000-person demonstration to formally reject "Special Autonomy".

Defense Minister Sudarsono Fails to Answer Questions Regarding Plight of Yamo People

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, meeting with human rights advocates in Washington DC on April 18, was unable to offer any information about the plight of the Papuan people in the Yamo area of the central highlands, who were forced from their homes by December 2006-January 2007 military operations. Questioned about whether these people had been allowed to return to their homes, or whether the security forces in the area had continued to impede the flow of food and medicine to these civilians, Sudarsono simply responded that there had been "some overreaction" in the conduct of the Indonesian military.

Sudarsono denied plans to move a new TNI division to West Papua (although earlier reports of such plans were based on statements from the Defense establishment). He contended that there were only 12,000 organic and inorganic troops in West Papua and that there had been no recent augmentation of those numbers. The only movement of troops into West Papua were part of normal troop rotation. Responding to questions about restriction on travel to and within West Papua on UN personnel, journalists, researchers and even diplomats he acknowledged that this was a frequent topic of discussion in Jakarta. He said that while the government would like to allow regular diplomat and defense attaché visits, there many cases of visa "misuse." "Some people go to places they should not go and engage in political propaganda," he said. "Papua is an issue with a high international profile," he said and as a result, problems are posed for security officials in the area of security and human rights. He added that the desire for "recognition" among Papuans was a "legitimate issue," just as it had been for the people of Aceh.

Displaced Yamo People May Be Able to Return to Their Homes

A respected Papuan in Jayapura has told the West Papua Advocacy Team that the replacement of the Bupati (Regency Leader) in Puncak Jaya by a Papuan may set the stage for the return of the several thousand Yamo villagers displaced by military operations to their homes. The previous leader, a non-Papuan, had worked with the military and police to generate conflict in the area. Papuan Pastors are preparing a team to go to the area to assist the Yamo villagers in their return to their homes.

Court Supports Papuan Kingmi Church Synod

A May 1 decision by an Indonesian court awarded control of Synod assets in West Papua to the new Papuan Synod, ending control of those assets by the Indonesian Synod from which the Papuan Synod broke away earlier this year. Radio broadcasts have claimed that the new Synod has a non-religious agenda. It appears that retaliatory pressure may be aimed at the new Synod leadership.

Papuan Muslims Meet

In early April, Papuan Muslims held an inaugural three-day congress in Jayapura with several hundred participants. The Papua Muslim Solidarity group coordinated the gathering. According to media accounts, the meeting focused in part on strengthening relations with other Papuan religious organizations as well as with the public and the provincial and local administrations in Papua.

The Jakarta Post (April 6) noted that Papuan Muslim leaders are pursuing dialog with the Papua GKI synod, the Jayapura diocese, the Baptist synod, the World Church Council, tribal leaders, cultural observers and state and security officials. Plans were to change the name of the Congress during the session from Papua Muslim Solidarity to Papua Muslim Council. The Council will have as its principal aim, improving relations with traditional Papuan Muslim communities, as well as the promotion of human rights, education, health and improvements in the community's economy.

Papuan Muslims and Muslims who have settled in West Papua from other parts of Indonesia comprise over 340,000. This compares with over 1,150,000 Protestants, almost 410,000 Roman Catholics and Hindus, and Buddhists numbering less than 6,000. There are an unknown number of Papuans who practice traditional beliefs. The Muslim minority in West Papua tend to reside in coastal communities notably in the West and South with many communities in the disputed new province of West Irian Jaya.

Efforts by both Christian and Muslim clergy leaders in West Papua have been successful in precluding serious communal tension although the continued marginalization of native Papuans as a consequence of the arrival of more immigrants and Jakarta policies which favor non-Papuans generate chronic communal tension.

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