West Papuan leader: 'OPM has overwhelming support'


West Papuan leader: 'OPM has overwhelming support'

By Norm Dixon The daring January 10 raid by guerillas of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has provided fresh evidence that the long struggle of the West Papuan people against Indonesian occupation is far from over — despite repeated claims to the contrary by the Indonesian military regime and its international backers. Seven visitors from Europe and at least 14 Indonesians were seized in the raid on Mapnduma village. Moses Werror, chair of the OPM Revolutionary Council, told Green Left Weekly that the OPM does not intend to harm the captives and is only seeking to attract international attention to its struggle for self-determination. "We have struggled for more than 30 years, and the world has ignored our cause", he said. Werror, speaking from Madang, described how West Papua became a province of Indonesia after a flawed United Nations-sponsored "Act of Free Choice" in 1969 transferred control from the Netherlands. "We were not consulted. Indonesia just made up a report for the UN and said all West Papuans agree to remain with Indonesia." Indonesia controlled the outcome. Only a select 1000 West Papuans were allowed to vote on behalf of the country's 700,000 people. UN "supervision" amounted to observing just 195 voters. Werror said the OPM action was just one of many that have taken place over many years, despite the establishment media blackout and the Indonesian regime's repeated claim that the West Papuan liberation movement had been defeated.


West Papuan resistance to Indonesian occupation began in 1962, when temporary authority was first given to Jakarta. Indonesia has conducted a vicious war against the West Papuan people and the OPM rebels ever since. Werror conceded the guerillas were poorly armed, often having to make do with spears and bows and arrows to fight the Indonesian army. "If we were able to get arms and military support in the same way as the liberation movements in Africa and the Middle East did, I think it would be very easy for us to do some harm to the Indonesian military. But despite very poor military equipment, we have been strong enough to stand up against Indonesia's modern military machine now for more than 30 years. No-one can deny we are strong!" It will take more than Indonesia's military power to defeat the people of West Papua, Werror told Green Left Weekly. West Papuans understand the meaning of freedom and independence and are prepared to fight for it. They overwhelmingly support the OPM. "OPM fighters are active throughout West Papua, which we have organised into nine or 10 districts. As well as military forces, we also have a political arm. "OPM organises West Papuan refugees forced to return from PNG by the Port Moresby government. When they return, they cannot live in the towns or villages but must live in the bush in the border area. OPM sympathisers also live on the PNG side of the border." Werror said that almost all West Papuans who work in the Indonesian-controlled Irian Jayan administration and also those in the military are OPM supporters or members. However, "Because of the political situation they have to keep quiet. Step by step they will come out and do something." The current increase in OPM activity coincides with a restructuring of the organisation that began with the crushing of an uprising led by the OPM in 1984. Since then, the organisation has been rebuilt, Werror said. Beginning in 1988, the OPM went on a concerted diplomatic campaign to bring its struggle to the attention of the international community. The OPM considers that campaign to have been positive as it has won support from international NGOs and gained many overseas sympathisers.


Through international solidarity, combined with an upsurge in military and political activity inside West Papua, Werror told Green Left Weekly, the OPM hopes to win recognition for its right to self-determination by the year 2000. Its first modest aim is to win recognition from at least one South Pacific nation. At last September's South Pacific Forum meeting in Madang, a parallel gathering of the region's NGOs endorsed West Papua's right to independence and urged the forum to grant the OPM observer status. The OPM hopes to see West Papua added to the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation's list of non-self-governing territories. Werror said he was sure that the West Papuan people's struggle for self determination was supported by those struggling for democracy inside Indonesia, and also by those fighting for East Timor's independence, but that it was difficult to make contact. "The Indonesian military blocks out all news of people who support the movement." International big business, especially Australian capital, see West Papua as a potential bonanza. Huge quantities of gold, copper, oil, minerals and timber wait to be discovered and exploited. The huge British-Australian RTZ-CRA combine, operator of the closed Bougainville copper mine, is now a part owner of the operations of the Freeport-McMoRan consortium, including one mine with gold and copper reserves with an estimated value of $40 billion. It is the second largest copper mine in the world and contains the largest gold deposit yet discovered. Werror expects the Indonesian regime to step up its repression of the West Papuan people in the next few years in order to guarantee companies' prospecting rights and mining operations. Already, the people are suffering terribly from the operations of Freeport. "It is worse than Ok Tedi, worse than Bougainville. The people don't have a right to say anything." Werror said that mining company officials and facilities have collaborated with the military to crush opposition to the Freeport mine, including the cold-blooded massacre of a church congregation on Christmas Day in 1994. Freeport's operations dump around 80,000 tonnes of mining waste into the Ajikwa River every day. The river is biologically dead, as are the trees on its banks. The traditional land-holders, the Amungwe people, have been relocated in the lowlands, where many have contracted malaria, a disease which did not affect them in their original highlands home.