WEST PAPUA: West Papuans debate way forward for freedom struggle


HANS GEBZE is a West Papuan student based in Yogyakarta. He has been involved in political struggle since before 1998. He is a secretary-general of the Alliance of Papuan Students (AMP). Gebze spoke to Green Left Weekly's MAX LANE about the West Papuan people's struggle for freedom.

The AMP formed in 1998 "as part of the radicalisation of university students throughout Indonesia during the movement to overthrow Suharto, which succeeded in May 1998", Gebze explained. "The AMP was formed out of various city-based student organisations in Sulawesi, Bali and Java. These groups were originally quite moderate and under the tutelage of the [Indonesian-controlled] Irian Jaya provincial government. Of course, students in West Papua were also involved."

The first big AMP congress was held in Yogyakarta in June 1998. It adopted as its general perspective support for the "decolonisation" of West Papua, Gebze said. "At that time, we decided to concentrate on exposing the historical reality of what happened in 1969, around the so-called "act of self-determination". We published various materials, including a book, Papua Accuses. But I have to say, at the time we had a weak emphasis on building the movement."

By December 1999, the AMP had suffered some splits. One group of Papuan students in Bandung established the Papuan People's Council (DERAP) and another group established the Independent Network for KEJORA Action (JIAJORA). According to Gebze, DERAP has become less active and JIAJORA is in a process of internal consolidation. There were no significant political differences between DERAP, JIAJORA and the AMP, but AMP's weak emphasis on building the movement in the early period allowed more space for leadership rivalries to sharpen.

AMP began its own process of reconsolidation in January, 2001. "We consolidated first in Yogyakarta, then in Bandung in May 2001 and Numbai in December 2001. We also had maintained a strong group in Sorong in West Papua since January 1999. We have only just been able to consolidate in Jakarta."

Gebze explained that in West Papua, AMP's base is in Jayapura, the capital, and in the central highlands areas, including Timika, Puncak Jaya, Jaya Widjaya, Nabire and Penyi. "These are the main population centres. It is also the area of operation of Freeport mines and the areas where the Indonesian military has been most active over the years."

In these areas AMP is undergoing a transformation in its social composition, Gebze explained. "The initial members of AMP were university students. These students became involved in organising other sections of the population, including traditional subsistence farmers — who we call the masyarakat adat — and lower-level government employees. We are planning to change from a student to a political organisation."


Since 2001, AMP has reaffirmed its political platform. AMP calls for: the decolonisation of West Papua through the holding of a referendum (in which all West Papuans, as well as all people who have been resident in the territory for 20 years or more, can vote); for the demilitarisation of West Papua; for the removal of the remnants of the Suharto regime; for dekapitalisasi (the end of the domination of capital); and for an end to all genocidal policies.

The AMP sees the absence of any serious policy by Jakarta to deal with the rapid spread of HIV-AIDS in West Papua as a deliberate policy aimed at the genocide of Papuans.

As part of dekapitalisasi, the AMP is calling for the closure of the giant US-owned Freeport mine until the West Papuans' key demands are met. The AMP seeks a system of joint ownership of the mine that includes a role for local communities.

"Other complications have now developed as a result of the influx of international capital [into West Papua]", said Gebze. "British Petroleum is coming to West Papua. The government in Jakarta is supporting this and also using it to try to set up conflict within the Papuan bureaucratic elite. Jakarta and the Indonesian national parliament are dividing West Papua into two separate provinces. The bureaucratic elite in one province will be 'working with' Freeport and the other with BP. They hope that this temptation will draw sections of the local bureaucratic elite into supporting the new provinces and away from supporting self-determination."

Gebze emphasised that the creation of two provinces will also bring benefits to the Indonesian military. The new province containing the BP facility will provide the military with an excuse to establish a provincial military command in the area and allow it to transfer more troops into the area. "We join with pro-democracy groups throughout Indonesia to demand the demilitarisation of Indonesia and the abolition of the provincial military command system", Gebze added.

Grassroots organising

"The AMP is also part of a broader organisation called the Koteka Tribal Assembly (DEMMAK)", Gebze explained. "DEMMAK emerged as a kind of opposition alliance following the second Papuan People's Congress in May-June 2000, which was organised by the opposition Papuan Presidium Council (DPP).

"DEMMAK involved student groups associated with AMP and also village-based people as well. DEMMAK groups felt that the DPP was too weak in their attitude towards Freeport. Some DPP people, like Tom Beanal, the deputy chair of the DPP, are also members of the Freeport board and are shareholders. Others are paid directly by Freeport. Many of the DPP people had direct links to Golkar, the party of former Indonesian dictator Suharto, and even the military. It has also been people such as these who have been signing agreements with BP. We think they are also being paid by BP."

While the AMP participated in the second Papuan Peoples Congress, it became disenchanted with its elitist leadership and left to help establish DEMMAK. Through DEMMAK, AMP activists conduct grassroots organising.

"At the village level, among subsistence farmers, we organise around demands for Papuan self-determination and demilitarisation. These issues impact on them most of all. Economic issues are more important to people in the towns, especially among low-level employees, who are also a base for DEMMAK."

According to Gebze, the DPP represents a more conservative part of Papuan society. Its base is in the upper levels of the bureaucracy, where corruption is more widespread due to its access to business, especially international and Jakarta-linked firms. "The DPP leadership represents an alliance between the Papuan bureaucratic elite, many with links to Golkar, the military, Indonesian big business and foreign capital. They can organise parts of the lumpenised urban poor, who have been used by the military in the past."

Gebze also noted that the DPP also has a student section, called the Youth and Students Panel. It is only based in Jayapura and has never been a part of any political movement, having been appointed by Papuan People's Congress.

"The DPP only pursues diplomatic activity in relation to the issues of self-determination and democracy. DEMMAK emphasises both the diplomatic struggle and local mass action; it conducts popular education around the true history of Papua", Gebze explained. "All the same, we must note the DPP leaders are still supporters of independence."

Gebze pointed out that the former DPP head, Theys Eluay, who was killed by Indonesia's elite Kopassus soldiers last year, was also a former Golkar leader. He worked with Jakarta in 1969 to implement the notoriously fake "act of self-determination" which incorporated West Papua into Indonesia. "Our differences revolve around how to struggle for independence and over what kind of society Papua should be after it wins its freedom."

Gebze emphasised that the AMP wants to build a strategic alliance with genuine pro-democracy forces in Indonesia. "Our best prospect for change is through the expansion of democratic space in Indonesia. Just as with East Timor, the prospects for the advance of the struggle in Papua are linked to deeper changes within Indonesia itself. The government of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, which represents the interests of the military and international capital, must be replaced. We want to work closely with the Indonesian students', workers' and peasants' movements."

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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