Military Storm Brewing in Papua

April 3rd, 2004 - by admin

Tom Benedetti / Asia Times – 2004-04-03 12:37:15

(March 2004) — Papua is the western half of the world’s second-largest island, shared with independent Papua New Guinea and located north of Australia. It contains 15 percent of the world’s languages, and greater ecological diversity than anywhere else on Earth.

Invaded by Indonesia in 1963, Papua is still under siege as its native people struggle for justice and self-determination against overwhelming odds.

Indonesia gained control of the region through a controversial United Nations “referendum” in 1969. One thousand locals were forced to vote openly in front of armed soldiers, and told they would be shot unless the vote supported integration with Indonesia. Not surprisingly, the vote was unanimous.

Those who campaigned against Indonesia leading up to the so-called referendum were labeled as subversives and assassinated, their villages strafed and bombed. Since then, raising the Papuan flag has been punishable by death.

Civil society in Papua (a loose coalition of 250 or more distinct tribes) has repeatedly called for a Zone of Peace, requesting that the Indonesian army and militia groups lay down arms and respect human rights so conflicts can be resolved through dialogue. However, anyone promoting even peaceful alternatives to full and unquestioned integration with Indonesia is an immediate target for arrest, torture or assassination by Indonesian security forces.

Filmmaker Murdered?
This month, journalist and filmmaker Mark Worth was found dead, just two days after Australian television announced the premiere of his documentary on Papua’s struggle for self-determination.

If murdered, as many believe, Worth is the most recent in a long line of civic and cultural leaders, academics, journalists and human-rights activists strategically assassinated. Their heads or bodies are often displayed like trophies to intimidate compatriots with similar ideas. Yet many Papuans continue to call for change in defiance of the personal consequences.

Occupation Has Claimed 100,000 Lives
In all, at least 100,000 Papuans have been killed during the occupation. The exact number tortured, disappeared and murdered is much higher, but is impossible to know since human-rights defenders and journalists are arrested or assassinated as a matter of course.

Hundreds of thousands more Papuans have been forced from their ancestral land, many dying of starvation as a result of food sources being destroyed by rapacious logging. (Virtually all large businesses in Papua are owned and run by the Indonesian military, or are engaged in major contracts with the military.)

Papuan people reflect some of the oldest and most unique cultures in the world. Some agrarian cultures in Papua predate Mesopotamia. They will soon be obliterated unless the outside world steps in.

Last month, Jakarta appointed Colonel Timbul Silaen as the new chief of police for Papua. Silaen was in charge of security forces in East Timor during the police-supported massacres in 1999.

His co-conspirator in those atrocities, Eurico Guterres, is now openly, and with Jakarta’s consent, organizing militia forces in Papua while he appeals a jail sentence for crimes against humanity.

These and countless other events present a direct parallel to Indonesia’s well-planned campaign of terror used to destabilize East Timor and escalate violence after the 1999 vote for independence.

Will a New Genocide Go Unnoticed?
Led by the same men, the genocide this time will likely be carried out unnoticed as the world is distracted by other events.

Similar to the current situation in Aceh, it is likely that Papua will soon face a total blackout. Journalists have been banned for years, and it is widely expected that non-governmental organizations will soon be denied access as well.

Unlike East Timor, Papua is a huge, wild and often inaccessible area. It also lacks organized support from the international community. Only a handful of activists worldwide and very few countries have ever expressed concern at the UN — tiny Vanuatu being the notable exception.

Now more than ever the Papuan people need the world’s attention. They need diplomatic (rather than military) aid to fend off the increasing might of a determined invader–if they’re ultimately ever to see justice.

A Fair Referendum on Independence
All that most Papuans ask is for a review of the farcical 1969 “referendum” — not independence, not expulsion of the migrants who now almost outnumber them, not financial or economic aid. Just a review that, if conducted fairly, should lead to a legitimate referendum on self-determination — this time conducted in a reasonable way under the supervision of UN observers rather than Indonesian soldiers.

Tom Benedetti is with WestPAN (West Papua Action Network), Canada.

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