West Papuan independence leaders have threatened a "total intifada" (uprising) against Indonesian occupying forces, following the failure of the August 4-5 Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to discuss West Papua's demands for independence, the Sydney Morning Herald said on August 7.
The independence movement has regained international attention in recent months after mass demonstrations in June and July in West Papua's capital, Jayapura, calling for a referendum on independence from Indonesia. This has coincided with a campaign of harassment and intimidation from Indonesia's military, especially in the mountainous Puncak Jaya region in central West Papua.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation said in a statement: “For too long the West Papuan issue has been swept under the tapa mat of [Pacific Island] Forum meetings, but if the forum is to truly represent all Pacific peoples it must confront the occupation of West Papua.”
Vanuatu, as the new chair and host of the PIF, did not raise the matter as had been promised earlier this year.
Vanuatu has recently made strong moves in support of self-determination for West Papua. In June, the Vanuatu parliament unanimously passed a motion in support of independence for West Papua, as well as to sponsor a move to grant observer status for West Papua at the PIF.
Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei blamed West Papua's omission from the PIF agenda on the cancellation of last month's planned Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting, saying the topic needed to be discussed there first, Radio New Zealand International said on August 5.
The issue of West Papuan independence received no support from other PIF nations. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said: “With the issues West Papua face, we respect Indonesia’s rights to exercise territorial authority.”
Australia has respected “Indonesia’s rights to exercise territorial authority” since 1969 when the Indonesian army selected a small number of Papuan "representatives" and had them "vote" for incorporation into Indonesia at gunpoint — a process dubbed the “Act of Free Choice” by the UN but the “Act Free of Choice” by Papuans.
Australian corporations have extensive mining interests in West Papua including a stake in the giant Freeport mine at Grasberg — the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine. Freeport’s environmental damage to the country and indigenous Papuan communities is such that Norway’s national pension fund has divested from mine operators Freeport-McMoRan and Rio Tinto.
The devastation wrought by mining and other resource extraction industries (such as logging) has driven Papuan resistance, while the brutal Indonesian military occupation has facilitated the mining companies’ continued operation.
Australian governments of both major parties have supported the occupation. The federal Labor government supports the “autonomy” process promoted by Indonesian governments since the end of military rule in Indonesia in 1998. This process rules out a referendum on independence and divides the territory into two provinces, against the wishes of Papuans.
Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said in January 2009: “We regard conditions in Papua and West Papua as being very important. We believe that the current Indonesian government, with its view of greater autonomy for both those provinces, is the correct and appropriate way to go.”
West Papua is slowly becoming an international problem for Indonesia, highlighted by Indonesia's increasing sensitivity to the issue.
Officials from the Indonesian embassy unsuccessfully demanded the cancellation of an August 11 public lecture in Melbourne organised by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, which discussed the West Papuan independence movement on, the August 11 SMH said.
This follows the signing of a letter by 50 members of the US Congress to President Barack Obama, calling on him to “make West Papua one of the highest priorities of the Administration”, and saying that there are strong signs that the Indonesian government has committed genocide against the Papuans, Voxy.co.nz reported on August 2.
Despite the encouraging moves from Congress, the US defence department said that it was lifting a decade-old ban of contact with the elite Indonesian special forces, Kopassus, and would resume training of the unit, the July 22 New York Times said.
Kopassus is infamous for killing civilians and other widespread atrocities throughout Indonesia.
In the meantime, the people of occupied West Papua continue to face violence and repression.
A number of shootings have been reported in recent weeks, which Indonesian authorities have blamed on civilians. However, Mathius Murib, a Papuan member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Jakarta Post on August 7 that the shootings needed to be investigated properly.
“Since 2004, no one has been arrested or legally processed for shootings in Puncak Jaya”, he said. “Every time an incident occurs, the police immediately claim an armed civilian group is responsible. The strange thing is, no legal action is taken after that.”
Police have also said they will use force against the Chairperson of the United Baptist Churches, Yoman Socrates, after he declared he would ignore a police summons to face questioning over a critical statement he made about the actions of the army and police in Puncak Jaya, Bintang Papua said on August 9.
Journalists have also been living in fear after a reporter was killed and others received death threats.
Ardiansyah Matra'is, a journalist with Merauke TV and Tabloid Jubi, was found dead in a river in Merauke on July 30, the Jakarta Globe reported on July 30. Matra'is, along with other reporters, had allegedly received threatening text messages related to their coverage of the upcoming regional election.
The day after Matra'is' death, a reporter with the Bintang Papua newspaper claimed to have received a threatening letter stained with blood.
The issue of West Papua is entering into the Indonesian mainstream as well. On August 4, the Jakarta Globe reported on a year-old video showing Indonesian soldiers torturing a dying independence activist.
The clip shows Yawan Wayeni, an independence activist and escaped political prisoner, severely wounded after troops allegedly sliced open his abdomen with a bayonet, spilling his intestines out of his stomach.
Facing taunts from armed troops who surrounded him, the dying Wayeni raised an arm to call for freedom from Indonesia. Police later covered-up the incident by saying Wayeni was shot in the thigh and stomach while resisting arrest and died on the way to hospital.