INDONESIA: by Dr Greg PoulgrainNews Weekly
Conflict intensifies in West Papua
, December 2, 2000
Dr Greg Poulgrain charts the growing conflict in West Papua between the Indonesian army and the supporters of independece for the province.
The two battalions of Indonesian troops shipped into West Papua week will only add to the ethnic conflict between Papuan and non-Papuan that is already at flashpoint.
The new head of the Indonesian Army, General Endriartono Sutarto, sent the 2000 crack Kostrad troops and ancillaries from South Sulawesi and Java to Indonesia's most easterly province which is threatening to secede in December.
Battalion commander Major A.M.Putranto explained that the green-beret troops entered Papua in response to "unstable security conditions" and "at the request of the people". The reference to democracy, however, does not include Papuans who still comprise a majority of the 2.5 million people in the province, but refers to the Indonesian transmigrants there, mainly from Sulawesi and Java.
Ethnic conflict in Papua is now threatening to undo all moves towards Papuan self-determination. Military intervention makes a mockery of the "special autonomy" planned for May 2001.
There is a parallel here with the protracted religious conflict in nearby Maluku in which army elements loyal to former president Suharto played a decisive role.
The top ranks in the army were reshuffled one month ago to strengthen those opposed to reform by President Wahid. Soon after, an unpublicised visit to the Papuan capital, Jayapura, was made by one of the most prominent red-beret elite Kopassus commanders, Major-General Syafrie Syamsudin.
Kopassus, in the words of Dan Murphy in Christian Science Monitor (20 November, 2000) are the Indonesian army's Special Forces Command, "a 6,000-strong unit that has forged a reputation as the toughest and most terrifying within a military known for its brutality".
Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, a 1974 graduate who first went to East Timor in 1976, has Kopassus combat and intelligence experience, particularly in the counter-insurgency units which (according to the UK-based human rights group, Tapol) "became infamous throughout East Timor for unremitting acts of terror and brutality.
Syafrie attended a special intelligence course in the US in 1977 and later received anti-terrorist training there in 1986. During the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, he was head of Kopassus intelligence in East Timor and is widely believed to have been the key man behind the massacre".
Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin is a close ally of the red-berets' former commander, Prabowo Subianto, who is ex-president Suharto's son-in-law. This link remains significant as Prabowo has now returned to Jakarta after two years exile in Jordan, having been accused of instigating the riots in Jakarta in May 1998.
At that time, Syafrie was the Jakarta military commander. All the expertise of Kopassus counter-insurgency is now being utilised to prevent the threat of secession in the province of West Papua.
Two notable additions in Jayapura, in both the Intelligence and Operations sections, are Colonels Armen Tonny and Joey Sihotang. The combined East Timor experience of these Kopassus officers will be used to thwart West Papuan secession. Papuans now fear that the Kopassus strategy is to start ethnic conflict between Papuans and the Indonesian transmigrants who have come to the province either as government-sponsored or self-sponsored settlers.
Another important figure who has previously used force rather than negotiation is the Provincial Police Chief, Sylvanus Wenas. Instead of being sent home to Jakarta after the Wamena incident in early October (when 24 transmigrants were killed, bringing ethnicity to the fore) the recall of Wenas was suddenly reversed. Instead, he was promoted from Brigadier to Major-General. He has been known to dress in shorts and T-shirt to collect information in the streets of Jayapura.
The political benefit for the military in adding to the ethnic tension in West Papua is that it creates the plausible role of peacemaker for the Indonesian army.
The advantages were evident only days after the Wamena incident when world media was fed a completely false account about Papuans holding 65 transmigrants as hostages in Tiom, in the highlands, and threatening to cut them to pieces.
Several Australian newspapers and mid-weekly television programs swallowed the bait, inadvertently undermining the policy of non-violence for Papuans to oppose Indonesian army under the scrutiny of the world media. According to the Indonesian news agency, Antara, (20 November, 2000) thousands of Indonesian settlers have fled Wamena since the rioting.
"The exodus from Jayawijaya regency has brought activities to a standstill at local state schools, hospitals and government offices, because just about all civil servants from the region have left."
Now that the Indonesian security forces have promoted ethnic conflict, the non-Papuan population in the coastal regions too have reacted, particularly the Bugis and Makasarese (from Sulawesi).In Abepura, just outside the capital, these two ethnic groups live in close proximity to Papuans. Last week, residential areas were suddenly barricaded, guards posted at entrances day and night, and a siege-mentality was adopted.
The tension exploded in the Abepura marketplace when several Papuans were seriously wounded in knife attacks. Indonesian media blamed the Papuans, saying that the police even obtained traditional weapons from the culprits.
Yet the examples included blowpipe darts a weapon used by Dayaks in Kalimantan, but not by Papuans. Papuans are being falsely accused again of starting ethnic unrest, and the army is strengthening its presence to deal with the situation.
Tension is increasing. According to reports from Jayapura, both Papuans and transmigrants are discarding knives and other traditional weapons in favour of home-made guns and even imported automatic weapons.
Already positioned along the border with Papua New Guinea that stretches over mountain top, jungle and swamp for 750 kilometres, there are 4000 Indonesian troops. This is more than the entire PNG Defence Force.
Yet weapons are still smuggled through, by the Papuan TPN or "national army" of the new millenium. Some of these are the jungle-fighters who have faced the Indonesian military for three decades.
But there is a newer militia as well, described as the "Papuan taskforce" and funded partly by channels that reach back to Suharto. It is this group that has been penetrated by Kopassus provocateurs.
Prabowo, when he headed Kopassus, set up five sections with different specialised skills. According to Tapol: The focus of Group 4 is to infiltrate opposition groups and to act as provocateurs. "They grow their hair long, dress shabbily, set up secret cells and sometimes carry out assassinations. Terror and violence are their stock in trade and they frequently recruit criminals as auxiliaries."
Some newspapers in Australia (e.g. Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 18 November 2000, p.17) have claimed : "The Papuans are now threatening a bloodbath unless their demands are met."
The term "Papuans" here refers to militia groups that Kopassus has penetrated. Reports indicate they are fired up to the point of claiming they are prepared to face the Indonesian army to fight for Papuan independence.
Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, last week referred to the potential for a "bloodbath" - but even he was not inferring that this will be the doing of the Papuans.
Indonesian army strategy is to hit the Papuans so hard that all talk of "independence" will fade away for months, maybe years.
The Presidium is trying for a non-violent approach. In a desperate bid to prevent Kopassus strategy from being launched, Papuans in Jayapura have erected large banners around the town. Some are written in Bahasa Indonesia and some in English - promoting a peaceful solution to the crisis.
They are calling for negotiation, not an increase in tension that plays into the hands of Kopassus.
If there is a bloodbath, it will be the work of the Indonesian army, not the Papuans.
The Indonesian strategy of using firepower to eliminate the problem of secession in Papua, or in Aceh in North Sumatra, runs the obvious risk of drawing criticism on human rights abuse.
The Co-ordinating Minister for Politics and Security, retired general Susilo Babang Yudhoyono, now effectively the chief of operations in the Wahid government, has "a comprehensive integrated plan of action to end separatism".
The Secretary General of the National Resilience Council, Arifin Tarigan, has informed him that the government is within its legal rights, with regard to the United Nations, to launch a military action in time of peace.
"It is called military operation other than war," Tarigan said, citing the example of US troops in Los Angeles dispersing rioters, adding: "We are now engulfed in human rights values, and that's why we do nothing in dealing with conflicts in regional areas."
The Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, has reiterated that as long as Indonesia respects West Papuan human rights, then Canberra supports continued Indonesian sovereignty of the territory.
In Brunei last week, President Abdurrahman Wahid thanked Prime Minister Howard for not supporting Papuan independence.
However, when the Indonesian army is swayed by Kopassus and is unwilling to negotiate, firepower becomes its first and last resort. When firepower replaces negotiation, the issue of West Papuan self-determination and human rights will be in the spotlight.
If Canberra fails to re-assert the consequences of neglecting human rights, it may yet succeed in promoting another regional conflict.