INDONESIAN SPECIAL FORCES ATTACKED BY OPM

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This article was published in the February 2001 edition of the Pacific News Bulletin, monthly magazine of the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre.

Four Indonesian soldiers of the elite Special Forces unit Kopassus were killed by West Papuan independence fighters in the region of Jayapura in early February. Kopassus and the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) are combing the jungle near Kuitav Betav village for the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) fighters and supporters involved in the attack.

The attack follows increased Indonesian military and police operations in West Papua, and the arrest of key West Papuan leaders in December. On 5 December, the Indonesian armed forces TNI announced that troops would be deployed in villages for "social programmes", a thinly-disguised pretext for a further crackdowns on independence supporters. Kopassus, the special forces brigade trained by the United States and Australia, is responsible for numerous human rights abuses in West Papua, Aceh and Indonesia.

The four Kopassus soldiers killed were Chief Sergeant Nandang Zainuddin, Second Sergeant Wani, Second Sergeant Zulkarnain Is and First Private Sudirman. Three of the dead were reported to be part of Group 4 of Kopassus, which is involved in overseeing intelligence.

An editorial in the Indonesia Observer on 6 February highlights Indonesian concern over military operations in West Papua by the OPM. The editorial, reflecting Javanese racism towards the Melanesian population, also reveals concern about local opposition to Indonesia’s rule:

"Four members of the Special Forces of Kopassus were killed somewhere in Irian Jaya by a group of West Irian rebels armed only with spears, arrows and makeshift weapons…. It is incredible that members of the infamous fighting unit trained in jungle warfare and equipped with the most up-to-date weapons were unable to defend themselves against an attack of the Papua freedom fighters and found their death in the jungles of Irian Jaya so far from home.

"We must admit that this tragedy took place as a result of their own negligence. A well-armed member of Kopassus can easily deal with 10 bloodthirsty savages. They are mostly equipped with sub machine guns whose apocalyptic sound alone would drive the primitive rebels away. It could have been unknown to them they had been followed by specially trained seekers who pinpointed their hiding place to liquidate them later on. This has revealed something of the dangerous lives led by our forces who bravely storm into regions over which Jakarta has questionable jurisdiction and where the population has had enough of Indonesian rule and systematic human rights abuses anyway."

The killing of the Kopassus troops follows the fatal crash in the Wamena highlands of a helicopter carrying the head of the Trikora military command in Jayapura, top Indonesian navy officers and Papua provincial officials. As a replacement, the TNI command has named Major-General Mahidin Simbolon as the new commander in Jayapura. Simbolon, a member of Kopassus, served no fewer than six tours of duty in East Timor, starting with Operasi Seroja, the invasion of the territory in December 1975. Simbolon played an active role in SGI, the special Kopassus unit designed for counter-insurgency, whose local command posts were used to torture captured East Timorese. He led the unit which arrested resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao in 1992, for which he was given a special promotion from major to colonel.

"Please, tell the world that my people are being deprived, starved and are dying in their own land" - arrested OPM leader Matthias Wenda

Later, until 1999, he was chief of staff at the Udayana military command based in Bali, the command in overall control of East Timor. During this time, the Indonesian armed forces launched Operasi Sapu Jagad, whose main purpose was to create, recruit and finance the militia units that spearheaded the army’s campaign of violence before, during and after the UN-supervised ballot in Timor (One of the militia units, Mahidi, an acronym meaning ‘dead or alive with integration’, was actually named after him). Simbolon’s appointment to take command in West Papua is likely to result in increased use of intelligence and militia operations, which he practised during his service in East Timor. Pro-Indonesian militia gangs, called Satgas Merah-Putih (red-and-white militias) are already active in West Papua.

The OPM is reportedly discussing a new leadership structure for the guerrilla movement following the arrest by PNG police of one of their senior commanders, Matthias Wenda. Wenda and twelve of his men were captured inside PNG territory, near the northern border town of Vanimo, and have been charged with operating an illegal army inside Papua New Guinea. Wenda’s men have been given prison sentences of six months’ hard labour, while Wenda and his deputy face trial.

Before his capture, Wenda had been interviewed by the PNG media last year: "My people want full independence and as the commander of my people, I want full independence too. We feel this is the time to fight Indonesia for independence. This is my program for the New Year and what I have told you is not my own thoughts, rather it is the wish of my people. God gave us this land (West Papua), not for Indonesians or others but for us to live and benefit from the land. But people from outside are coming in and reaping the benefits. I don’t like that. Please, tell the world that my people are being deprived, starved and are dying in their own land." (Post Courier, 2 January).

NGOs and church leaders have expressed concern that Wenda could be deported to Indonesia (Mecky Salosa, another OPM leader who was deported to Indonesia, was murdered while in Indonesian custody). Brigadier General Made Mangku Pastika, the chief of Indonesia’s police in West Papua, said on 31 January that he has asked the PNG government to return Wenda to Indonesia for trial after he serves his sentence in Papua New Guinea. MELSOL (Melanesian Solidarity) in Port Moresby has accused the PNG Government for "doing the work of the Indonesian military". MELSOL chair Powes Parkop says there appeared to be a deal between Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia to contain the Free Papua Movement.

The PNG government is concerned about security as West Papuan refugees and Indonesian troops cross over the border into PNG territory. The PNG Defence Force has issued new Rules of Engagement for Operation Lukautim Perbatasan and operations on the PNG border with West Papua. The order states: "We have a duty under our Constitution and laws to protect our borders from being violated by persons who want to do harm to PNG or by persons threatening our national security and sovereignty. We (PNG) have agreements with the Republic of Indonesia for the administration and protection of our common border. These agreements say that the border must not be used to bring harm to either country."

The order also calls on PNGDF soldiers to identify OPM fighters: "If you encounter OPM fighters, inform them they are in PNG territory. Inform them that unless they return to their side immediately, they will be arrested for border violations. Always bear in mind that you are not there to do a job for Indonesians. You may arrest any OPM fighter who refuses to leave PNG territory. You may use minimum and reasonable force but not excessive or lethal force. You are to treat any OPM fighter properly. Hand them over immediately to the police or other civilian authorities."

Newly appointed PNG Defence Secretary John Vulupindi has announced that the PNGDF will deploy two helicopters to the border in February. Mr. Vulupindi said the PNG defence department allocated two million kina (US$ 634,000) this month from its 2001 budget to service the helicopters.

Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, Indonesian Observer, The National, Tapol

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