By Jason Cornelius with Max Watts
The report of another massacre of native Papuans near Hoea village in the Fak-Fak district of West Papua has again troubled Australian relations with Indonesia. Alleged human rights violations have, apparently, been committed by undisciplined Indonesian troops. According to Jakarta, shooting of unarmed civilians is not part of official government policy.
PT Freeport Mining, the giant US-British concern whose copper and gold mining operations dominate the region, has denied that its installations or personnel were involved in torture or killings.
But in Timika, where I interviewed many local people earlier this month, such distinctions between "the company", the army and the government seem irrelevant to the population. For the Amungme people from the mountainous interior, who have been — often forcibly — resettled in the coastal area and for the coastal Komoro, Indonesia's government, "the company" and the army appear as a single hostile entity.
The fear amongst the Papuans was almost tangible. The Indonesian soldiers, walking everywhere with their submachine guns and automatic assault rifles slung over their shoulders, reminded me of films of occupied Europe.
With pre-established contacts, I was able to interview many of the local people. They did not feel that the latest massacres were anything particular. The shooting was not seen as excesses committed by undisciplined troops, but as part of an ongoing policy of systematic repression.
For the Papuans, the problem can hardly be solved by the replacement of some wild local troops, who could, according to Australian defence minister Robert Ray, be improved by training in Australia. The Papuans see themselves as victims of deep-seated Indonesian racism expressed by the "occupiers" towards the "primitive" Papuans: "They call us monkeys and our traditional penis gourds 'tails'".
There is also a very generalised and widespread economic discrimination. In employment, I never saw a Papuan worker in any shop or services. In housing, there are three levels: on top spontaneous transmigrants from Indonesia, the "officials" — also derogatorily called "Jaya refugees" — and, a long way further down, the local Papuans.
But the most fundamental problems are land rights, or rather the "there are no land rights" policy pursued by both the company and the Indonesian government.
Dispossessed landowner Robert: "I say: this is my land, this is my mountain. But the government of Indonesia, Freeport, said: This is not my land, this is not my mountain, but this is state land. And because it is state land, they have the right to take everything, our resources, and that is what makes the problem between the company, the government of Indonesia, and Amungme people.
"The government and company, they regard these resources as state ownership, and because of that they kill us now, they exterminate us. The government and Freeport, they kill us to get our resources."
I asked: What do you receive in exchange for the land?
Robert: "Twenty-five years they have Freeport here, but they never pay any compensation".
Tembagapura, the company town in the mountains, is "off limits", not only to unsponsored foreign journalists, but also — as I learned to my astonishment — to the Papuan population. Travelling to Hoea village, where the May massacre occurred, would have compromised my local friends and contacts.
However, many of the Amungme people I interviewed in Timika were originally landowners from the interior. Most have been resettled in the coastal area against their will.
Their stories were almost unanimous. Although many had once thought that the mine, "development", could perhaps mean progress, they soon found that the mineral riches under their mountains had become a curse.
John, an older landowner — he seemed about 50 but was probably somewhat younger — from the Erzberg mountains:
"The company came in 1972 ... They told us that everything will be OK for Amungme people: we will live together, we will do everything together, we will get compensations, and our children will go to secondary schools, everything. But this never happened.
"What happened is that we became foreigners in our own country."
John: "The agreement with the company was signed when I was very little, and now I have already become very old, and I know the company promised that they will share everything together, but now I am already an old man, and I never seen what company promised."
The Papuans not only lost their land, but saw it destroyed through strip mining. Victor, a local chief: "The government and the company have destroyed our land".
If initially many Papuans seemed willing to give the changes brought by Indonesia and the mining corporations a try, this chance seems to have been utterly lost. As far as I could see, only the overwhelming military force of the Indonesian army has prevented an explosion. The Papuans no longer believe in Indonesian progress.
Time and time again I was told, "The company and the government must leave this country!"
Initially Papuans hoped that "progress" would at least bring health services, but here too they were disappointed.
Victor: "In Tembagapura there are government and company hospitals, in Timika there is a medical centre, but for us the Amungme people we don't have enough money to pay health care".
"If I am an Indonesian, with the long hair, I get more, better, services, but I am Amungme people, I am a Papuan, I cannot get similar treatment as an Indonesian. Even [when] we die, they put us in a plastic bag and throw us away, on the boxes, like an animal.
"They look on us as animals".
I asked John: What happens when you complain to the government about Freeport?
"When we complain about the company, the injustice, they come and kill us! We have witnessed these things since long time. We complain, we take any actions against the company, the company come and kill us. The company and the Indonesians."
I counter that Freeport of course state they have nothing to do with any killings.
John: "Oh yes, the company. To us, there is no solution, because Freeport is paying the Indonesian government, so both of them go together against the people, so for us, we don't have any access, any way of solving our problem. So, government — it depends on Freeport, and government, because of that, will not improve our condition. Company and Indonesian government is together. We Amungme people is outsider; the fruit is taken by company and Indonesians.
"What I said in the beginning, that Freeport and government should leave this country, this is really true, from the bottom of my heart, they have to leave this country. Because the land, the mountain, the hill, the market, everything, is not for us, is everything for Indonesians. For company.
"I do not know what will happen to our future. I know we Amungme people and Komoro people, when we demand our rights, they kill us. That's what we know."
At the time I wondered whether this was not an excessively pessimistic position. Unfortunately, I have just learned that one of my Amungme friends who talked with me was arrested by the Indonesian military police last week. He has not been seen since.