West Papua: Independence movement defies repression

Rally for West Papuan independence in Port Vila, Vanuatu, March 5. Vanuatu will officially sponsor the case of West Papua in the

Indonesian military forces have stepped up their campaign of repression in West Papua in recent months. But leaders of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) continue to defy Indonesian demands to surrender.

The campaign for West Papuan independence has been amplified by the continuing repression and lack of improvement of living standards under the current “special autonomy” system.

An eyewitness report from West Papua Media Announcements (WPMA) posted on Pacific.scoop.co.nz on June 16 described a large military mobilisation in the mountainous Puncak Jaya region in central West Papua.

The report said the Indonesian military and the paramilitary Mobile Brigade (Brimob) have engaged in a campaign of harassment and intimidation since March, as part of their efforts to capture OPM leaders.

The report cites numerous incidents of lawless behaviour by the security forces, including arbitrary arrest, torture, extortion, forced labour and rape. Numerous homes and churches have been burned down.

A June 1 report from WPMA said seven people were killed when the “Indonesian military stormed several villages in the Jambi, Sinak Ilu and Tingginambut districts of Mulia” that day, using “rockets, bazookas and grenades”.

On June 14, Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) quoted Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch saying people have been fleeing to the jungle to avoid being terrorised by the military.

Rex Rumakiek, secretary general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation said in the May Morning Star that this could cause a major humanitarian crisis, as has occurred in the past. “In previous operations those who survived and manage to escape into the mountains remain in hiding for weeks and even months.

“Many of the elderly and children died from simple sicknesses because of malnutrition. Those who came back later had nothing to return to.”

RNZI said Indonesia's police commander in West Papua, Bekto Suprapto, criticised journalists for being too negative about the security situation. Independent journalists are discouraged from going to West Papua, and those who do must be registered with the authorities, which places strict controls over their movements.

A mass rally took place in the West Papuan capital of Jayapura on June 18 to reject the region’s special autonomy within Indonesia and demand a referendum on self-determination.

WPMA said that participants estimated the crowd to be 6000-10,000 people. The protesters marched 17 km from Abepura to the provincial parliament in Jayapura to symbolically “hand back” special autonomy status, the Jakarta Globe said.

Papua People’s Assembly member Robby Aituarauw told the Jakarta Post on June 19: “Look at the villages and the conditions of homes. See whether people have been provided with healthcare and education.

“They have never benefited from these facilities, so they believe special autonomy has not been effective and should be revoked.”

The independence campaign received a boost on June 19, when the parliament of Vanuatu unanimously passed a motion in support of independence for West Papua.

Vanuatu will officially sponsor the case of West Papua in the International Court of Justice, which seeks to have Indonesia’s 1969 annexation of West Papua deemed illegal.

Vanuatu will also apply for West Papua to be re-listed with the UN Decolonisation Committee.

West Papuans have been campaigning for independence since the country was taken over by Indonesia in 1963 as part of Indonesia’s de-colonisation deal with formal colonial ruler the Netherlands. This is supposedly a temporary measure until a referendum on West Papuan independence could be organised.

West Papua was officially annexed in 1969 in the fraudulent “Act of Free Choice”, where 1026 West Papuan “representatives” were forced by the Indonesian military to vote in favour of being part of Indonesia.

In 2001, in an attempt to quell the growing independence movement, Indonesia imposed “special autonomy” status on West Papua, granting limited institutions like the Papuan People’s Assembly. But real control remains in the hands of Jakarta.

Economic development in West Papua is the lowest in Indonesia, despite the area’s abundance of natural resources. Brutal Indonesian military repression has created conditions for multinational corporations to exploit the region.

Papuans are also discriminated against in favour of Javanese migrants, who are being moved in at the highest migration rate in the world, Bintang Papua said on May 20.

Rumakiek said that West Papua’s current status of “special autonomy” within Indonesia was simply colonialism under another name. “Violent repression, injustice and social inequalities experienced here are not different from other colonial situations in history.

“In our view, denying the people basic services while suppressing them and keeping them under traumatic conditions continuously is nothing less than terrorism.”