PAPUAN HOUSEWIFE TELLS SUFFERINGS OF HER PEOPLE

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PORT NUMBAY, Indonesia (June 14, 2000 – Kyodo News/Kabar Irian)---Outwardly, nothing is obviously special about Yosefa Alomang, a 49-year-old who lives in a mountainous area in Indonesia's Papua (Irian Jaya) province.

She is illiterate and not fluent in Bahasa Indonesia.

But among Papuans and human rights advocates where "Mama Yosefa" was already well-known, she became famous when she was named recipient of the Yap Thiam Hien Award, a prestigious award for human rights activists, in December last year.

The award, named after a late Indonesian human rights activist and lawyer, was first given in 1992.

But Mama Yosefa refused an invitation from Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid to receive the award in Jakarta, saying she does not plan to break herself-imposed ban on traveling to Jakarta.

Like the rocks in her Papua homeland in Indonesia's easternmost province, Mama Yosefa is solid and tough.

She started on the tortuous path of struggle against discrimination leveled at the local Amungme and Kamoro tribes in 1974, a year after she moved to Timika Regency, site of the U.S.-run mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia.

She moved after marrying Markus Kwalik, a native of the area.

Freeport was just beginning construction of the Grasberg Mine, which produced 1.4 billion ounces of copper and 2.4 million ounces of gold last year.

But the construction of the world's largest open-pit mine resulted in the displacement of people as land, including farms, was grabbed from the local population.

Serious conflict with the indigenous people began in 1977 and, when the company built the Timika Indah Company housing complex in 1985, it peaked.

Women got angry as their vegetable farms were taken over, with the latest conflict causing an attempted uprising that sent thousands of Papuans fleeing into Papua New Guinea next door.

Mama Yosefa recalled in an interview that the Freeport officials said: "This land belongs to the state...Guns will eat you."

She said they told them, "We're not afraid to die."

In 1992, she led a group of women to build a campfire in the compound of Timika Airport, halting flights. The protest was against the takeover of the land on which the airport's hangar was built. The luxurious Sheraton Timika Hotel and several offices were also built on that land.

In 1996, along with Amungme tribal leader Tom Beanal, she filed a lawsuit against Freeport in a New Orleans court. Two years later, she led a protest in front of the residence of a senior official of Freeport McMoRan, the mine's owners, in Louisiana.

"I don't know how many lives have been lost in our fight to defend our rights to live on our own land," Mama Yosefa said.

"Their deaths have not stopped the exploitation of. . .our sacred mountains and ancestors' homes for gold, copper and nickel."

German-born Port Numbay Bishop Herman Munninghoff was unable to bear seeing the human rights violations in Timika.

In a report made public in August 1995, he opened the world's eyes to the tragedy against humanity that had been going on for 30 years in Freeport operations in seven tribal areas, especially those of the Amungme and Kamoro.

Mama Yosefa is one of the victims listed in Munninghoff's report.

Delegates to a congress on Papua declared independence earlier this month and said they expect to gain full independence by December 1 this year.

The declaration has been strongly criticized by the central government and President Abdurrahman Wahid has threatened to take harsh actions if independence is fought for.

But to Mama Yosefa, the declaration is a new path toward the return of the rights of Amungme and Kamoro tribes.

And she appears ready to keep on fighting for her rights.

"It seems there is no other way to get back our rights except through independence," she said.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") Website: http://www.irja.org/ 

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