September 21st 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Iraq: America's dilemma

EDITORIAL: Is there an answer to recurrent drought?

Singapore-style super scheme: interest stirs in ALP

AGRICULTURE: Cane farmers reject sugar package

Straws in the Wind: Boat opponents / The house that Don built

Indonesia: Who are the terrorists in West Papua?

COMMENT: Australia-US free trade: MAI through the back door?

Washington trade deal (letter)

Telstra sell off (letter)

Child abduction: parents beware (letter)

Community banks expand (letter)

Character in public life (letter)

REGIONAL AFFAIRS: East Timor: the challenge ahead

Media ownership and control: the next step

UNITED STATES: Greenspan hoists the white flag on economic policy

DOCUMENTATION: Can Professor Trounson's statements be trusted?

ASIA: The Philippines: no cause for optimism

BOOKS: Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University

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Indonesia: Who are the terrorists in West Papua?

by Dr Greg Poulgrain

News Weekly, September 21, 2002
On Saturday 31 August, 2002, two carloads of American school teachers and their families, on a sightseeing tour from the Freeport goldmine in the Indonesian province of Papua, were sprayed with automatic gunfire.

Two Americans and one Indonesian teacher were killed; seven other Americans and an Indonesian were wounded and evacuated to Townsville Hospital. Before they departed for Australia, however, a human rights activist in Timika interviewed two of the Americans, middle school teacher Stephen Emma and art teacher Lynn Poston.


Timika, on the southern coast of Papua, is a town of about 100,000 people, 70% of whom are non-Papuans who have settled there because of the spinoffs from the world's largest goldmine operated by Freeport.

Timika has air-links with Jakarta, several hours west, and Darwin, one hour south. About 35 km from Timika there is another town called Kuala Kencana, a company town for employees who do not live at the minesite township which is 3000 metres up the mountain and about 90 km away.

The township near the mine is called Tembagapura, and this was where the teachers lived. Most had arrived there only two weeks before and the sightseeing trip in three Toyota four-wheel drive vehicles was an outing for them to get to know each other. The one vehicle that was not hit by bullets managed to reach an Indonesian army security post which was less than a kilometre away from the scene of the attack.

Stephen Emma and Lynn Poston explained that the attackers were "Indonesian military". However, once they were evacuated to Townsville, Freeport imposed a tight-lipped policy, demanding that none of the wounded say anything about the attack - even to their relatives who came to visit them in Townsville Hospital. A large security operation swung into action to make sure that nobody gained access to the wounded.

Guarding the wounded against further attackers is quite understandable, but why guard them so that their relatives could not gain access or at least talk about the attack?

When the US Embassy announced later that Saturday that there had been an attack on Freeport staff, the Indonesian military spokesman Major-General Sjafrie Samsoeddin announced soon after that the attackers were Papuan rebels - separatists who wanted to break away from Indonesia as East Timor had broken away.

Maj-Gen Sjafrie, as a leading officer in the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus, was involved in setting up militia in East Timor but has never been brought to trial. The current head of the army in Papua, Maj-Gen Simbolon, was similarly involved, and also Kopassus.

In response to September 11, and the Bush Administration priority to eliminate terrorism, the likelihood that ties between US and Indonesian military are resumed in full seems very likely. This has become an American priority driven by the well-advertised threat of al-Qaeda terrorism taking hold in Southeast Asia.

By the end of 2002, there will be 8000 US troops in the Philippines fighting not just Muslims in the separatist southern island of Mindanao, but also members of the New People's Army. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population under the leadership of President Megawati, and is a secular state, but this may change if she does not win the next election in 2004.

Ensuring that the 2004 elections do not result in Indonesia becoming a Muslim state is even more a priority for US analysts than the stated threat of militant Islamic cells in Indonesia linking up with the culprits of September 11.

Army role

A pro-US Indonesian army (as it was in the 1960s against Communism) is still regarded by US analysts as a bulwark against a prevailing ideology at governmental levels in the event that Megawati is ousted by Amien Rais and/or a Muslim government that will be anti-Washington.

More than this, the incursion of Islamic influence within the Indonesian army itself will prove to be crucial because of the continuing influence of the army in Indonesian politics. Megawati - unlike her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid - continues as President today only because she has found a working solution with the army that does not involve army reform on the scale that Wahid was attempting. Even Hendropryono, the head of national intelligence appointed by Megawati, is from Kopassus.

The resumption of US-Indonesian military ties could be jeopardised by the news that the killers of the American teachers on the road to the Freeport mine were not Papuan separatists but Kopassus terrorists.

The Free Papua Movement (OPM) has never had access to the firepower that was used against the Freeport staff; nor has OPM ever killed non-Indonesians during the 40 years of struggle against Indonesian occupation of their homeland.

When the carloads of teachers were travelling from Tembagapura, the mining town, to the best sightseeing location on the road down to Timika, the cars pass through a long tunnel with both ends guarded by Kopassus troops.

The attackers may have received prior warning from these guards that the cars were approaching: this could be checked by access to radio transmissions made at that time.

The road is precipitous at the point where the attack occurred. It has even been suggested by survivors that the attackers had a vehicle: if so, this vehicle could have been driven from the attack site near the 62 km point down to the 50 km security post where there is a petroleum reservoir and a side road for the army encampment.

There are two villages on the western side of the road, Banti (the people displaced from the actual mine-site) and Aranop. On the western side is Singga, accessible by helicopter over difficult terrain, and regarded by the army as harbouring OPM sympathisers.


This is where the army went in pursuit of the so-called Papuan terrorists who shot the teachers, and they shot one Papuan whose pockets were seen to be stuffed with M16 magazines, but he did not have a weapon.

It was at this village in 1994 that the army shot 20 people, men, women and children, claiming they were OPM sympathisers. Despite outcries from the church and human rights groups, nobody in the army was ever held responsible for these deaths.

Five years ago, Kopassus and Freeport had an amicable relationship, but with the economic downturn Kopassus personnel have been pressing for more "fringe-benefits". They have the contract for security of the mine and pipeline carrying the gold and copper slurry from the mountain to portside, but want more cash when they see the relative luxury of the American lifestyle. Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett has an annual income of around US$40 million.

In March 2002, Kopassus raided a Freeport office in Kuala Kencana and tried to blame it on the Papuans; later, Kopassus was caught stealing millions of dollars of copper cable. Just before the shooting, there was a report that Freeport had stopped the "free-air tickets" back and forth from Jakarta for Kopassus. This brought a very angry response.

OPM leaders publicly signed a Zone of Peace agreement only two weeks before the shooting - together with church and human right groups and the Indonesian police.

The OPM leader in the Freeport area, Kelly Kwalik, has issued a statement denying any involvement in the shooting of Americans.

Even comments from diplomats in Jakarta brought the response that the shooting seemed not to be the work of OPM. Yet Indonesian army spokesman, Maj-Gen Sjafrie and Freeport spokesman Tom Green both accuse Papuans of being terrorists.

Now the US Embassy in Jakarta also blames the Papuans.

They might claim that OPM had a sudden supply of weapons and ammunition, or that there was a breakaway group, but for the Papuans there was clearly no advantage in killing American school teachers.

For Kopassus, however, angry with Freeport or determined that the US and Indonesian military ties be resumed on the basis of fighting terrorism, there is a strong motive and means. There seems to be a willingness in US circles to overlook the real culprits in case any revelation would disrupt the larger agenda centred on the rise of Islam in Indonesia.

  • Dr Greg Poulgrain

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