International Affairs: West papua, the next East Timor?by Greg PoulgrainNews Weekly
, October 7, 2000
Irian Jaya - where fighting has broken out between the police and Indonesian army units - has all the hallmarks of another East Timor.
Queensland academic, Greg Poulgrain, who recently visited the resource-rich province, explains the background to the violence.
West Papuans have defied a ban by the Chief of Police, Brigadier-General Wenas, on hoisting the Papuan flag, the Morning Star, in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, and the flag is still flying in all major urban centres. The police mobile brigade (Brimob) in Sorong shot and killed three Papuans, wounding 28 others, when flags were forcibly removed; and in Manokwari last month, when Papuans occupied the local parliament in protest, gunfire erupted between Brimob and a section of the Indonesian army for eight hours, bringing the town to a standstill.
The Morning Star has been flying in the province since the Papuan Congress in July this year. Irian Jaya was renamed Papua by the provincial parliament but the Government in Jakarta has not yet agreed to the change. Army position
Now it is even less likely to agree because the Indonesian army strengthened its position in relation to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid during the August/September parliamentary session. Moreover, when the Indonesian Parliament issued a decree forcing the president "to use the government tool to take action against separatism", West Papua was mentioned specifically.
In addition to the regional rivalry between the army and police, further instability in the armed forces has resulted from the passing of a new law designed for higher ranking army officers to avoid retrospective human-rights charges. This has meant that several junior officers are facing prison sentences of 20 years and has caused severe unrest in the ranks.
Insubordination and rivalry between the armed forces has led to gunfights as occurred in Manokwari late last month.
Of the 600 police in the Brimob units sent to Manokwari, some came from East Kalimantan where last year they had a gun battle with rival army units in which 15 police died.
Another incident between Brimob and the army occurred a fortnight ago in Timika, the town of 100,000 Indonesians that sprang up as a by-product of the Freeport mining operations. When an Indonesian soldier was stabbed by a policeman, the local police chief decided to attend the funeral to offer his condolences.
Army personnel were so incensed at his arrival they fired 75 bullets at his car, but the police chief escaped without injury. The fighting that then erupted resumed in Manokwari last week.
One possible reason for the current feuding between the police and army in the capital, Jayapura, is to gain control of the illegal drug trade.
On Monday September 11, army special operations (Kopassus) troops were prevented by police from entering a large passenger ship docking in Jayapura harbour. In the fracas that developed, a top army officer was killed in his headquarters.
In response, a truckload of troops stopped outside police headquarters in the main street, Jalan Imam Bonjol, and deliberately took aim at the hundreds of police in the main quadrangle. The police scattered rapidly but the truck then drove on without a shot being fired.
For three decades, the Indonesian armed forces have ruled in Irian Jaya and their trigger-happy reputation, particularly the army, has earned them the enduring hatred of the local population.
Rather than add to the history of bloodshed, Papuan human rights groups are promoting dialogue to bring together Jakarta's desire to end Papuan separatism and the Papuan desire to be rid of their Indonesian oppressors. Foremost among these human-rights groups is ELS-HAM, whose spokesperson in Jayapura is John Rumbiak.
He commented on the banning of the Papuan flag and the force used by Brimob: "This is the start of a pattern of provocation to terrorise the Papuans so they are afraid to express their right to freedom (after the Papuan Congress)," he said. "If it continues, Papuans may turn against non-Papuans in frustration, leading to a wider civil conflict similar to the trouble in Ambon."
Five members of the Papuan Presidium attended the United Nations in New York recently as observers attached to two Melanesian delegations from Vanuatu and Nauru.
The Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Barak Sope, and his counterpart from Nauru, Bernard Dowiyogo, called for the United Nations to respect the West Papuan "fundamental rights to self-determination" and review the UN role in 1969 when Indonesia organised a fraudulent "vote" to legitimise its control of the province. The "continuing disputes and concerns", which they referred to, will only be aggravated by the banning of the Morning Star.
The application of brute force over three decades has failed, and the use of more force now will only result in international condemnation. Compounding this problem is the arms-smuggling trade which, according to US reports, now includes M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles that are finding their way to the West Papuan separatists.
Reports such as these are used by the Indonesian army to rationalise the flow of additional troops into the province. This strengthening, aggressive stance seems inconsistent with the stated government policy of promoting "special autonomy" in West Papua.
West Papuan Church authorities are supporting the demands of the new Papuan Presidium which has requested that known mass-burial sites be investigated by UN authorities.
Jakarta is trying to buy back Papuan support. For example, each Papuan governor (Bupati) in the twelve regencies in the province has been allocated a total of Rupiah 28 billion (approx A$6 million) to spend before November 2000. Opposing this approach, members of Megawati's PDI-P party in the Jakarta Parliament - some of whom are now closely aligned with sections of the Indonesian army - have demanded that these funds be stopped immediately.
According to some political analysts in Jakarta, promoting autonomy along these lines will lead only to a repeat of the East Timor disaster which ended in secession from the Indonesian Republic.
Papuans reject the promise of "special autonomy" on the grounds that when the former President Suharto previously made this offer, the only result was the killing of more Papuans. They see the only alternative is the unilateral declaration of independence which is planned for December.
The army is also preparing for this, with thousands of extra troops and police arriving in the last month, so it seems this option too could lead to a repeat of the East Timor disaster.
If the Indonesian army resorts to the continued use of force in West Papua as it has for the last three decades, the outcome will be catastrophic for the Papuan population and also for Indonesia.
For such a path (now that world attention is starting to focus on West Papua) may ultimately mean Jakarta loses this province. Only five of Indonesia's 27 provinces contribute more than they receive from the central government, and of these five, West Papua (with the world's largest gold-mine and now the world's largest natural gas deposit) is the greatest source of revenue for Jakarta.
In the long run, the scale of such a loss could spell the end of the Indonesian unitary state. Jakarta and West Papua are on the horns of a dilemma: the need for dialogue is urgent.