West Papua: Gov't tries to pin shootings blame on activists

June 30, 2012

The Indonesian government has engaged in a spin campaign over the recent wave of mysterious shootings in Indonesian-occupied West Papua in an attempt to derail the struggle for independence.

With no evidence, Indonesian police have blamed the shootings on the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and its armed wing, the National Liberation Army. Several Papuan independence activists were killed, along with others wounded or killed since the attacks began in late May.

Police have also singled out the West Papua National Committee (KNBP) for blame, an organisation with no history of violence. KNBP spokesperson Victor Yeimo said a mass surrender of KNBP members would take place to force police to investigate the shootings properly, Bintang Papua said on June 25.

“The police need to investigate this,” said Yeimo. “As yet, they have not be able to say who was responsible and have not made any arrests. The KNBP suspects that this … has quite deliberately been stirred up by the police and the military.”

The KNBP's move came after one of its leaders, Mako Tabuni, was murdered by police and Australian-backed Detachment 88 anti-terrorist troops in Jayapura on June 14. His death sparked a small-scale riot by outraged locals.

The executive coordinator of human rights group Kontras, Haris Azhar, told the Jakarta Globe on June 17 the killing bore all the hallmarks of a police hit.

Witness accounts said Tabuni was approached by three unmarked cars and shot without warning, Bintang Papua said on June 20. This contradicts police claims that Tabuni was armed and resisted arrest.

After his death, police accused Tabuni of involvement in the wave of shootings. Police spokesperson Senior Commissioner Johannes Nugroho said Tabuni was carrying a stolen police weapon when shot, the Sydney Morning Herald said on June 20.

Alius Asso, chairman of the Nayak Asrama in Abepura, told Jubi on June 26 the allegations were false. “What proof do the police have of this? They should have arrested Tabuni and questioned him instead of shooting him dead.”

Another of the KNBP's leaders, Buchtar Tabuni, was arrested on June 7 for organising “anarchic protests”. The protests called for a proper investigation into the mysterious shootings and were brutally repressed by police.

The events follow a pattern of Indonesian forces blaming independence groups for violent acts to raise military presence in West Papua.

A secret report from Indonesian commando unit Kopassus leaked by journalist Allan Nairn in November 2010 showed that armed Papuan groups are not considered serious threats. Most are poorly armed and “hardly do anything”.

Activists, students and clergy were considered bigger threats for campaigning for independence and exposing Indonesia's human rights abuses.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono first tried to play down the violence. Activist John Djonga criticised the remarks as disrespectful. He told the Jakarta Post: “It is now clear that the Yudhoyono [administration], and the Indonesian government in general, have no commitment to upholding justice and protecting human rights in Papua.”

Instead, the government has decided to engage in some highly unconvincing spin to create the illusion of action.

Chief security minister Djoko Suyanto told a meeting of West Papuan representatives on June 18 that Indonesia prioritised “welfare” over military force to solve West Papua's problems, Antara News said that day.

"Until now the approach used is welfare and not military, because a military approach is only useful for dealing with crimes," he said.

Such claims are preposterous given the large and incredibly violent presence of Indonesian police, soldiers and paramilitary troops in West Papua. The region has also been woefully neglected ― it is the poorest in Indonesia, despite its huge riches in natural resources.

Harassment and intimidation of Papuans by authorities is a common occurrence across the country. Several cases of torture and murder have put Indonesia's actions in the international spotlight in the recent years.

Five independence leaders were jailed for treason in March after their role in the Third Papuan Congress, which was attacked by troops in October last year.

Kontras released a report on June 22 showing a big rise in reports of torture by police, prison officials and military across Indonesia. The report compared the year July 2010-June 2011 with the period July 2011-June 2012. It showed a tripling of torture cases, with the number of victims rising fivefold.

It said Papua was the most represented in the figures, with 11 torture cases and 98 victims.

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