West Papua activists call on Australia to stop joint exercises with the Indonesian military

October 22, 2021
Papuans in the Maybrat region have been forced to flee into the jungle by Indonesian military operations. Source: WIYAI Papua TV

About 200 Indonesian military personnel are taking part in a joint training exercise with 150 Australian troops in the Northern Territory. Meanwhile, in West Papua, thousands of civilians are fleeing Indonesian military operations in the Maybrat region.

According to the Civil Society Coalition for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), more than 2768 indigenous Papuans from 50 villages in the Aifat Selatan, Aifat Timur, Aifat Timur Jauh, Aifat Timur Tengah and Aifat Timur Selatan districts have fled their homes.

They fear being arbitrarily arrested or tortured during the Maybrat operation, which has been ongoing since September 2. According to the coalition, the IDPs have sought shelter in the nearby districts of Aiyawasi, Kumurkek and Aitinyo, as well as other regencies, such as Sorong, South Sorong and Bintuni.

The coalition counted 40 elderly people, 4 pregnant women, 338 minors and 17 infants among IDPs originating from the Aifat Selatan District alone.

As at October 2, 51 of these IDPs are experiencing health issues. One IDP has reportedly died.

Human rights activists have uploaded a video showing a group of IDPs from the Kiwirok District, Pegunungan Bintang Regency.

The video shows about 60 people — mainly women, elderly people and children — sitting together in the jungle. One of the women is sharing raw leaves and several bananas among the children. Another raises her voice and appeals to the group in the indigenous Ngalum language: “Indonesia[n soldiers] came and burnt our villages to the ground. We have already fled to the forest for one month. There is hardly any food so all children must eat what we have.”

Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) spokesperson Joe Collins said: "We have not heard a single word of concern from Canberra about the plight of West Papuans fleeing military operations, or about the ongoing human rights abuses in the territory.

“Yet, Vanuatu's Prime Minister Bob Loughman did, when he addressed the 76th UN General Assembly."

Loughman told the UN General Assembly that the indigenous people of West Papua continue to suffer human rights violations under Indonesian rule.

Collins said: “Canberra is always ready to condemn human rights abuses in other parts of the world, particularly if it also has US backing, but refuses to criticise Jakarta about abuses committed by its military in West Papua, one of our nearest neighbours.

“Instead of increasing defence cooperation with the Indonesian military we should have a moratorium on all training with the Indonesian military and Canberra should be calling on Jakarta to halt all security force operations in the territory.”

While the situation in West Papua is “seriously deteriorating” said AWPA, on a recent visit to Jakarta by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton the two countries agreed “to strengthen security ties leading to joint military training in Australia and participation in its defence academies”.

“Australia has also donated 15 Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to Indonesia,” said AWPA.

Collins said, “while the Indonesian security forces are committing human rights abuses and conducting military operations in West Papua, there should be a moratorium at the least on all military aid to the Indonesian defence forces.”

The Guardian reported on September 19, how a newly-released, unredacted intelligence report reveals that an Australian intelligence officer provided the Australian government with compelling evidence, just 11 days after a massacre on the island of Biak, in July 1998, that Indonesia “almost certainly used excessive force against pro-independence demonstrators”.

The same officer was also handed photographic evidence by West Papuans on Biak, at great risk to their safety. The photos were distributed to his superiors within the department of defence, but never saw the light of day. No Indonesian military personnel have ever been charged with their involvement in the massacre.

A petition against Australia providing military aid or training to the Indonesian security forces has been launched on change.org.

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