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West Papua Report

April 2009

This is the 59th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at

A legendary Papuan nationalist visits Indonesia and West Papua, stirring controversy by reminding the international community of West Papua's forced annexation by Indonesia. A military/police buildup is underway in West Papua. A Papuan Parliamentarian has appealed for a non-security approach in West Papua. The BBC has presented a rare documentary focused on those pressing for West Papua's separation from Indonesia. The Governor of West Papua has criticized the expulsion of Dutch journalists from West Papua. Thousands of Papuans have demonstrated in support of a referendum on Papuan independence. Senior Indonesian Defense officials have postured disingenuously, feigning concern about Papuans freedom of speech. India has announced a plan to assist in meeting vast educational deficits among Papuans. Environmentalists protesting illegal logging and land clearing in West Papua and West Kalimantan were beaten at the targeted corporation's headquarters.


Papuan Nationalist Founder Returns Home after over Four Decades in Exile
What was apparently intended as a show of support for Papuan integration into Indonesia backfired as one of the first generation of Papuan nationalists told reporters that he still considered Papua to be a separate country from Indonesia.

Nicolaas Jouwe


Nicolaas Jouwe


Nicolaas Jouwe, now 85, returned to Papua for the first time since the beginning of Indonesian rule in 1963. He also traveled to Jakarta at the invitation of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The return of Jouwe after so long was as if Thomas Jefferson had stepped off a plane. It focused the spotlight on the history of Papua's still-disputed integration into Indonesia.

Jouwe was elected in 1961 as a member of the first New Guinea Council, an embryonic parliament for what was then still a Dutch colony, and immediately become one of the key leaders in the Papuan independence movement. He designed the Morning Star flag that is still the emblem of Papuan independence aspirations, and was active internationally in a nonviolent, globally-focused campaign for recognition of Papuan self-determination. This campaign built up considerable support in the Pacific islands and among African countries, and won a majority of support at the UN General Assembly, but the Kennedy administration decided for reasons of cold war strategy to back the Indonesian claim. The result was a U.S.-brokered agreement in 1963 to hand the territory to Indonesian rule, which left the basis of the conflict intact. The perceived denial of self-determination for Papuans lies at the root of continued conflict, with Papuans feeling robbed of their right to self-determination and still keenly aware of the U.S. government role in stage-managing an agreement reached with no Papuan participation. A continued Papuan call is for a dialogue that will, among other things, set straight the historical record. This is one element missing form the special autonomy granted to Papua, and its omission is one reason that there continues to be rejection from many Papuans of the autonomy package.

Nonviolence and international diplomacy and dialogue were among the key themes of the Papuan independence leaders of Jouwe's generation. They remained on display as Jouwe visited his homeland. Invited by the Indonesian president, Jouwe said the time had come for dialogue, since "Indonesia remains our big neighbor." Alongside dialogue was the call for a nonviolent approach: "Even if we have to talk a thousand times, it is better than violence." To date Papuans have been denied the same sort of dialogue that led to a peace settlement in Aceh, perhaps because the Indonesian army sees Papuan nationalists as less of a military threat.

It is not clear whether the "encounter of heart and mind" (in the Indonesian president's words) with Jouwe signals any willingness for expanded dialogue. Signs are that the visit was designed to show a prominent historical figure endorsing integration, with the Jakarta Post speculating that Jouwe would seek Indonesian citizenship and call for an end to independence demands. Instead the visit was dominated by what Jouwe's son called on his twitter report "the pincident." Jouwe arrived wearing a Papuan flag lapel pin. At a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands Yunus Habibie pressed Jouwe to pin an Indonesian flag to his lapel. Jouwe declined, repeating the need for dialogue between "neighbors." Reports on this incident and the trip led to the detention of four Dutch journalists, two of whom were slated for deportation (see below).

Jouwe's visit was in some ways reminiscent of the November 2007 trip by Congressman Eni Faleomaveaga. Invited by the Indonesian president to back the Special Autonomy Law, Faleomavaega saw his trip slashed from three days to two hours and was not permitted to meet Papuan nationalist leaders or even to travel to Jayapura. In that case, it was support for autonomy (as opposed to independence) that the Indonesian government seemed to be seeking. The "pincident" indicated the same possible goal for Jouwe?s trip.

Incidents and April 9 Elections Prompt Military/Police Buildup

The killing of two civilians and one solider, allegedly by armed pro-independence Papuans associated with the Papuan armed resistance group the OPM, has prompted calls for a military buildup in the area. TNI spokesperson Brig. Gen. Christian Zebua told the Indonesian media mid-month that the troops would be "organic" personnel, i.e., troops drawn from units already stationed in West Papua. He made clear that the TNI had already launched a retaliatory operation, in conjunction with the police to hunt down those purportedly involved in the March 14 shooting of a solider and two civilians (see March West Papua Report for details). A police spokesperson told the media that the security forces would launch "sweep operations." Papuans have alleged that some of the armed Papuan groups involved in recent incidents are in fact provocateur elements sponsored by the Indonesian military.

The buildup coincides with stepped-up police monitoring of what police described a "conflict-prone areas" in anticipation of possible disruptions associated with the national April 9 parliamentary elections. The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia's "most feared mobile brigade (BRIMOB) has sent hundreds of additional personnel to West Papua for the political campaign leading up to the April 9 vote.

In that past, TNI-led "sweep operations" have displaced thousands of Papuan civilians who have fled their villages for refuge in surrounding forests. Cut off from food and medical services, many have died. Those who returned sometimes found that their homes, churches and schools had been burned and their gardens destroyed by the security forces.

Plea By Papuan Parliamentarian for Different Security Approach in West Papua

A Papuan parliament member (DPR) has called on the Government to pursue a different approach in dealing with security concerns in West Papua. The Papuan member of the Indonesian parliament, Dr John Manansang, on March 14 told the Cenderawasih Pos that in responding to recent security incidents, the Government should take into account the concerns that lay behind this violence. He decried the typical attitude of the Government which he noted "sees the Papuans as having no right to the land and therefore has decided to hunt them down, and brand them as 'separatists'. He described this "security approach" as "very distressing" for local people, explaining that according to Papuan tradition, everyone on a piece of land feels that they have entitlement to that land. "Branding them as separatists and forcing them to flee and live in the forest, means that they are denied the right to live on their own land." He called on the Government to use a "social-cultural" approach that would bring genuine security to the region.

BBC Presents Rare Inside View of West Papua


Raising the Morning Star flag. BBC


In a highly unusual focus on West Papua, the BBC on March 13 presented a compelling account of the extraordinary challenges faced by Papuans. The BBC's announcement set the scene for this documentary footage with great candor. It noted that West Papua became part of Indonesia in 1969 through what it described as a "controversial and very limited vote." Since the "vote," the BBC continued "there have been calls from some Papuans for independence and for decades a low-level armed resistance has been rumbling on, largely unnoticed by the outside. "Many Papuans feel their culture and identity is slowing being eroded," the BBC explained. The BBC also placed the Papuans plight in its racial/ethnic context. "Papuans don't look like other Indonesians, they are Melanesian, closer to Aboriginals than Asians. But migrants from other Indonesian islands now make up about half the local population. Some of these in-comers consider the traditional Papuan way of life backward and uncivilized. Layers of grievance have built up over the decades."

Accounting for the broad international ignorance of the Papuans' plight, the BBC explained that "international journalists are severely restricted from working in the province where a special permit is required (note report below of the expulsion of Dutch journalists who possessed valid visas). The BBC explained that the footage it presented was shot by a UK citizen who had to travel undercover, aided by local activists who remained anonymous for their safety. (The video can be seen at: )

Papuan Governor Laments Actions of Security Forces and Intelligence Units in West Papua
Papuan Governor Barnabus Suebu has sharply criticized Indonesian officials for the arrest of three Dutch journalists. The journalists had come to West Papua to cover the visit of Papuan nationalist figure Nicholas Jouwe (see report above on this historic visit.) The three were arrested for observing a peaceful Papuan protest at the office of the Governor. After being subjected to questioning by officials of the immigration office, two of the three journalists were deported purportedly for violation of immigration statues.

Governor Suebu, as reported in a March 27 Cenderawasih Pos article translated by TAPOL, described the action against the journalists as regrettable. He added that such a security approach was not appropriate in the present era.

'I don't know why they were questioned. If they have visas they should be able to travel anywhere. This is the strange thing about this country. When you go abroad and have a visa, you can travel everywhere. ''Why were they arrested? Did they commit a crime? I have been an ambassador. When someone has a visa they can stay for as long as specified in the visa.

The Governor described the arrest as indicative of a broader problem, noting, "The state apparatus is suspicious of everything, what are they trying to hide?" He continued, "The chief of police possibly doesn't want such things to happen. This is probably the work of the intel. If things like this keep on happening, there will never be any progress in Papua" He concluded that the "security approach" was "all wrong."
Thousands Demand Referendum
Thousands of Papuans gathered in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, on March 24 according to a Reuters report. The demonstrators demanded a referendum on independence from Indonesia. This would constitute the referendum denied Papuans 40 years ago when Indonesian authorities rigged an "Act of Free Choice," a purported act of self determination that has been broadly attacked as rigged by scholars and even by UN personnel who monitored the charade.

Reuters reported that the protesters carried banners with the words "Election no, referendum yes", "Stop genocide for Melanesian race in West Papua", and demanded the withdrawal of troops from the province.

There were no reports of violence associated with this protest.

Senior Defense Officials Posture Regarding The Importance of Freedom of Speech in West Papua

During March, Senior Indonesian defense officials spoke uncharacteristically about West Papua. Armed Forces Chief General Djoko Santoso on March 11 contended that the TNI believed that separatist movements in Papua could be minimized by a better government approach to Papuan welfare. Djoko also said the military would fully support the process of democracy in Indonesia, including in Papua, saying it would view any demonstration calling for independence as an act of freedom of speech. This comment is particularly confounding inasmuch as Papuans who call for independence continue to suffer beatings and worse at the hands of the military and police, as well as conviction and imprisonment for subversion.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said the government would not use an ?iron-fist? approach in dealing with separatists, but would always try a persuasive and soft approach through dialogues within communities. ?I believe our police and military understand the situation and would tolerate any voice of dissatisfaction." It should be noted that the Defense Minister has no real authority over the military. The Chief of the Armed Forces (Santoso) reports directly to the President, not through the Defense Minister.

Indian Government Plans to Improve Education in West Papua
India intends to provide direct assistance to the Papuan people, according to a March 31 Jakarta Post report. "We - Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu and I - have agreed to promote Indian education here and to promote Papua in India. We aim to better Papuan human resources for the future," Ambassador Nanda explained. The ambassador met Suebu on March 25 and leaders of Cendrawasih University, offering the university students scholarships for postgraduate studies at universities in India.

In his visit to Biak Numfor regency earlier in the day, Nanda also proposed similar cooperation with the local administration.

"He said the scholarships offered to Cendrawasih University students were part of a capacity building program aimed at enhancing human resources capability in Papua. "The program would ultimately support economic development in the province.."

The Indian assistance may serve as a model for other governments seeking to address failures of the Indonesian government over four decades to address educational needs of Papuans. A similar plan recently proposed by a member of the  U.S. Congress failed to get off the ground due to reluctance on the part of Indonesian officials to support the plan
Environmentalists Beaten as They Protest Illegal Forest Destruction.

Merbau logs are loaded onto barge in Kaimana, West Papua.

LEFT: Merbau logs are loaded onto barge in Kaimana, West Papua, despite the company's permit being suspended © Greenpeace/Rant. RIGHT: Greenpeace activists deployed banners at the Sinar Mas building in Jakarta on March 19, 2009.© Greenpeace / Ardiles Rante

Security guards belonging to one of Indonesia's largest logging and palm oil corporations, Sinar Mas, have assaulted NGO personnel outside the corporation's headquarters in Jakarta. Greenpeace activists were punched and kicked as they attempted to protest illegal land-clearing in West Papua and in West Kalimantan.. Greenpeace activist told Radio Australia that Sinar Mas had cleared peat land and forests near the West Papuan town of Laereh as well as a site in a national park in West Kalimantan.

The wholesale destruction of forest lands in West Kalimantan, including the burning of valuable high grade old growth forests by Indonesian and foreign corporations, has long been the hallmark of "development" in West Kalimantan. Papuans and others concerned about the destruction of land in West Papua view the destruction in West Kalimantan as an ominous harbinger of similar government-promoted "development" in West Papua.

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