British oil giant BP has signed a deal with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a $12 billion expansion of the Tangguh liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in occupied West Papua.
The deal is typical of West Papua's exploitation at the hands of Indonesia and Western companies, who have pillaged the area's resources and abused its people for decades. Papuans have the lowest standard of living in Indonesia, despite the huge amount of wealth the area creates.
West Papuan activist Henk Rumbewas, who lives in exile in Australia, told Green Left Weekly: “The biggest gas project in Indonesia will be Tangguh. It's predicted there will be 100 to 200 years of gas [production]. They also recently found more oil and gas near Biak and Yapen Islands in the north, which is predicted to be bigger than Tannguh.
“The British government gave a special honour to the president because he's a puppet of the Western alliance. [Former dictator] Suharto was the first puppet of the West, now [Yudhoyono] is the second-biggest president who's a puppet of the West to ensure their interests.
“Papua is a well-protected source of resources for Australia, America and also Britain.”
The most famous example of this is the Grasberg gold and copper mine run by US company Freeport-McMoRan. It is the world's largest gold mine and is notorious for human rights abuses and buying-off authorities.
Rumbewas said of Grasberg: “The United States protects its interests while they forget about the human rights abuses in that mine ― against the basic rights of labour for example.”
Human rights abuses are a common occurrence across West Papua. Indonesia stations thousands of police, army troops, Brimob paramilitary forces and Australian-funded Detachment 88 anti-terrorist police throughout the region.
Several activists have died and many more have been arrested in the Indonesian government's latest crackdown on the independence movement. The crackdown has been justified by dubious claims that activists, particularly those in the West Papua National Committee (KNBP), are involved in terrorist activities.
Rumbewas said: “The KNBP is a peaceful organisation. Many of them are very young and quite revolutionary. I'm saying they are revolutionary because they march down the street facing the armed forces of Indonesia, which is fully equipped with weapons... They walk down the street and they don't care ― they don't give a damn about the Indonesian armed forces.
“Basically they are young and are like a socialist movement. They are getting ideas from the great revolutionaries in China, like Mao Tse-Tung, and other Marxist ideas ...
“The KNBP looks at the time of the transfer of Papua as part of Indonesia [in 1969] and says there was no proper procedure of United Nations transfer, it was the US government that put pressure on the Western alliance [to recognise the takeover].”
West Papua was taken over by Indonesia in collusion with the West in 1963 after the Netherlands, its former colonial ruler, relinquished control. The takeover was made official in a fraudulent vote in 1969.
“The KNBP believe that there has been no justice and that there should be a referendum like in East Timor,” Rumbewas said. “This is a threat for the Indonesian government, and they are very worried about it.”
“The KNBP are really militant and very powerful... They are well educated and very influential – that's why the government is worried.
“So, instead of being called a revolutionary movement, the KNBP is now being targeted as a terrorist gang.
“The large resource operations are in the highlands, and [many of the young activists] are brilliant, intellectual highlanders. The large population of indigenous Papuans is in the highlands and the new leaders in the Papuan parliament are now the highlanders. So that means if these educated people become powerful, of course they are going to maintain the struggle for a lot longer. So that's why the government wants to crush them.
“We have to keep pushing with peaceful means. We have to keep talking and raise the issue of the abuses.”
Rumbewas said Indonesia's multi-ethnic make-up meant many saw it as politically unstable. He pointed to the ethnic violence in Lampung, which began late last month, where local Sumatrans attacked Balinese and Javanese migrants.
“[The government is] ruling because they've got support from Australia and the Western alliance, but Indonesia itself is not a solid, strong country.”
Indonesian elites see West Papuan claims for independence as a threat to this fragile unity.
Rumbewas said the latest crackdown would not destroy the independence movement.
“To say that Papua will die overnight, it's a dream for Indonesia.
“They are not going to win, whether they send more troops or more migrants from Indonesia. The Indonesians have never made Papua their home, like in East Timor. Their only interest is the mine opportunities.
“As long as there is injustice in Papua, the fight for independence and freedom will exist.”