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By the Editor Laksamana.Net

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Viewpoint/Joyo Indonesian News/Laksamana.Net/ TAPOL)---Separatist rebels in Irian Jaya (West Papua) earlier this month abducted two Belgian filmmakers, hoping to draw international attention to their demand for a referendum on independence. The plan could backfire and result in serious military reprisals, as happened when rebels kidnapped a team of European and Indonesian researchers in the remote province in 1996.

The separatists have said the Belgians will only be released if President Abdurrahman Wahid takes the issue of the troubled province before an international forum. But the president has enough problems of his own to deal with now, rather than playing the role of an international troubleshooter shooting himself in the foot.

Wahid has been by far the most sympathetic of Indonesian leaders to the people of West Papua. Last year he permitted them to raise their Morning Star flag, an offense that would normally have resulted in severe military aggression or jail. The president also provided Rp1 billion (US$ 88,000) in funding for a Papuan People’s Congress which resulted in a declaration that the mineral-rich territory had never legitimately been part of Indonesia and was therefore independent. But in a stark reminder of who really controls Irian Jaya, the military soon put its foot down on the separatist movement. Rebel flags were destroyed, security forces clashed with primitively armed natives, and Wahid’s orders to release detained separatist leaders were rudely ignored.

Many people from West Papua want an East Timor-style referendum on independence, but the government refuses to discuss such an option, saying the most it can offer is greater development under a limited autonomy package within Indonesia. "Irian Jaya will remain part of the country forever," Defense Minister Mohammad Mahfud said on Tuesday (June 26, 2001). "I think it is better for the people of Irian Jaya to concentrate more on development in the province, rather than making demands for a referendum or full autonomy. We can only approve special autonomy," he said.

The House of Representatives is yet to finish deliberating a bill on the provision of special autonomy for Irian Jaya. The proposed bill has reportedly won support from at least 60 legislators and several House factions, but is opposed by the powerful Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) because it is seen as a violation of the 1945 Constitution and the principles of the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.

A delegation of leaders from the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council on Tuesday met in Jakarta with Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Agum Gumelar to put forward an alternative draft law on autonomy for Irian Jaya. The minister responded by calling on the House to heed the presidium’s demands. "Besides containing Irian Jaya’s uniqueness and accommodating the Irianese people’s aspirations, the former bill also maintains the province’s status as part of the unitary state of Indonesia. The central government should not force the Irianese people to accept the government-sponsored bill because special autonomy should accommodate the basic values and unique characteristics of the Irianese people," he said.

As long as Wahid remains in power, the government will continue to hold amicable talks with senior figures in the separatist movement. Such discussions would have been unthinkable during the 32-year reign of autocratic former president Suharto. His regime dealt harshly with any dissent or demands for freedom. Sporadic uprisings in Irian Jaya in the ‘70s and ‘80s were brutally suppressed and sources say the military enlisted specialist foreign help to wipe out entire villages with bombs and napalm.

Wahid’s likely successor, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, is a staunch nationalist with little time for separatist movements. Although she probably would not personally order a return to the Suharto era tactics of murder and repression in West Papua, certain generals may feel that under her rule they will able to resume a scorched earth policy in parts of the territory in order to quash the rebel forces.

Any news of future atrocities committed by Indonesian troops in West Papua will no doubt increase international pressure on Jakarta to find a non-military solution to the territory’s problems. And although plenty of foreign left-wing groups and human rights organizations will demand the people of West Papua be given an independence referendum, it’s unlikely to happen. One of the main differences between East Timor and West Papua is that the former has so few easily exploitable natural resources, whereas as the latter is home to the world’s biggest gold and copper mine, PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Freeport MacMoRan Copper and Gold Inc.

Many West Papuans claim it is only a matter of time, be it 10 years or 100 years, before their homeland achieves independence. The desire to break free from Indonesian rule is spread across almost all sectors of West Papuan society, from near-Stone Age forest dwellers to government officials who have lived most of their lives in Jakarta. They want control over the wealth produced by their province, an end to transmigration and the withdrawal of all non-native military forces. Such aspirations will probably not be achieved under special autonomy. The only solution for many dissatisfied locals will be to obtain independence, even though it appears to be an impossible dream.

"No matter how long it takes, it has to happen. It is inevitable. It is our destiny," says a West Papuan civil servant who works for a government department in Jakarta. "Australia supported East Timor, so Australia will have to support us. We are Melanesian and have nothing in common with the Javanese," he adds.

The separatist movement must greatly improve its organization, unity and discipline if it is ever to gain strong international support. Kidnapping foreigners may put the rebels in the headlines, but it won’ get them much positive coverage, especially not if they run out of patience and kill their hostages.

Two missionaries, Theo van den Broke and Rev. Benny Gay, have been assigned by church authorities to negotiate with the rebels for the release of the Belgian hostages, Johan Elia Theo van Dem Eynde (47) and Phillippe R.D. Simon (49), who were captured in early June. Van den Broek on Tuesday said the separatists would only release the Belgians if Wahid holds international talks on the West Papua issue. The demand was made in a letter signed by Papuan Liberation Army (TPNP) commander Kelly Kwalik. Broek said he planned to meet with the rebels in Illaga, Puncak Jaya, pending the return of Wahid later this week from his ongoing trip to Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Irian Jaya Governor J.P. Solossa said a copy of Kwalik’s letter had been sent to Jakarta to be given to the president when he gets back.

Dealing with the Irian Jaya issue will be one of the last things on Wahid’s mind as he battles to stave off impeachment proceedings. Nonetheless, he recently discussed the matter with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. There are concerns in Indonesia that Australia may decide to support the independence movements in West Papua and rebellious Aceh province, in the same way that it tacitly backed East Timor’s bid for freedom in 1999, having previously recognized the territory as part of Indonesia.

However, Howard insisted that Australia respects Indonesia’s territorial integrity now that East Timor has achieved independence. "Both of us are strongly of the view that the strains over East Timor, understandable though they were in the context of those events, should in the interest of a deeper and broader relationship be put behind us as we move on," he said. "I repeated Australia’s support for and recognition of Indonesia’s territorial integrity.

"I welcomed the proposals for special autonomy, especially in relation to Aceh and Irian Jaya," he added.

Howard said the special autonomy package for Irian Jaya is a unique opportunity to deal with particular difficulties. "I want to put on record my very great respect for the great undertaking in Indonesia’s embrace of a different form of government. The transition to democracy is difficult; it’s been carried out with great courage by the Indonesian people and by the president himself," he said.

If rebel leader Kelly Kwalik had been hoping to win international support for his independence cause by kidnapping a couple of Belgians he has so far failed to do so. He should have remembered the military reprisals that his people suffered in the aftermath of the 1996 kidnapping of six European and four Indonesian researchers. At that time he had said the hostages would not be released until West Papua received international recognition as an independent nation.

The 10 biologists and their guides were abducted by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) on January 8, 1996, at Mapenduma, a village in the Baliem Valley. They had been conducting scientific research in the Lorentz National Park. After being held by Kwalik’s men for four months, they were rescued on May 15. The rescue operation was led by the Army’s elite Special Forces (Kopassus) and allegedly involved members of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS). The mission was hailed by the Indonesian government as a great success, but it failed to prevent the murder of two of the biologists.

As the Kopassus soldiers moved into the rebel territory, the two male Indonesian researchers on the team - Navy and Tessy - were brutally killed by their captors. Leader of the team, Daniel Start of England, later said he could understand the feelings of hatred that many West Papuans harbored against Indonesians, but he pointed out that the whole episode had not achieved anything positive for the rebels. He also said that Kwalik seemed to be a somewhat unbalanced character, possibly because the Indonesian military had killed his brothers.

Start, who revisited Irian Jaya in 1997, recalled his memories of Kwalik in an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National. "Kelly Kwalik was educated in a seminary. He’s fairly notorious within the area for having led OPM operations from ambushes on the Freeport mine -- they blew up their slurry pipe in the late ‘70s -- to organizing rallies more recently in the early ‘90s.

The Army actually came into those areas and they also began trying to find his family within the resettlement camps down in the lowlands. In fact his brothers, all his brothers, were detained on the very same night in 1994, to try and find out if they could find Kwalik, and I think about four months later it was confirmed that they had been tortured and murdered."

Fellow hostage Anna McIvor said the OPM had been planning to release the captives in an effort to generate good publicity, but Kwalik opposed the move. "He more than anyone else seemed to have a very split personality and would just completely flip around in what he’d think and what he’d do, and we always really saw him as someone who was a bit deranged, because perhaps of what had happened to his family in the past. And perhaps that twisted him," she said.

The Lorentz kidnappings were initially been hailed as a success by Moses Werror, chairman of the OPM Revolutionary Council (OPMRC). In a document dated between March 6-10, 1996, Werror proudly listed the top dignitaries who were calling for the release of the hostages. Among them were U.N. secretary general Boutros Boutros Ghali, Pope John Paul II, the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, and the president of the European Union.

Werror described the publicity generated by the abductions as a great achievement. "Since the kidnapping drama began the worldwide community has become very well aware of the OPMRC/WP struggle. This has brought our cause and our demands for our rights and for our dignity to be recognized back into the international arena. This is a major victory under Stage 6 of the ongoing OPMRC campaign -- internationalizing the plight of the indigenous people of West Papua -- which began with our very successful T-shirt campaign in 1993. Enormous credit for this latest achievement must go to the OPMRC commanders Kelly Kwalik and Daniel Judas Kogoya and their members," he said. After gushing so much praise, Werror then ordered Kwalik and Yudas to release the hostages to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but the order was ignored.

Start said that if the OPM had accepted a peaceful resolution offer from the ICRC, villagers in the area would have gained a health program and long-term international support. "But the OPM had rejected it and now they had only the military for company." He said the rebels had refused to release the hostages and killed the two Indonesian men because "after the shame of 30 years of occupation and abuse it restored in them a sense of pride, a belief that one day they could take control of their lives again."

The West Papuan rebels have little chance of winning their war against Jakarta, but according to Kwalik, the territory’s natives should be prepared to die rather than live under Indonesian rule. "It is better we all die as Papuans than live to watch our children grow up as Indonesians," he said.

Strong words, but Kwalik must realize that his latest bid to attract international attention is not winning him any kudos. He must also understand that dealing with Irian Jaya is no longer one of Wahid’s top priorities. Gus Dur is struggling to hang on to the presidency and would therefore be unwilling to further alienate the military and nationalist politicians by inviting the international community to discuss West Papua’s separatist struggle.

Kwalik should re-examine his tactics. Hostage taking is what terrorists and dangerous extremist groups do. Such action won’t help the cause of the rebel boss and his men. East Timor managed to achieve independence without having to take any foreign hostages. Unless the situation is dealt with carefully, it could end in tragedy, not only for the Belgians, but for the impoverished people of West Papua.

Separatists have been fighting a low-level campaign to make Irian Jaya an independent state since Indonesian troops started entering the territory in 1962. In 1969, the UN held a so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ in which just over 1,000 tribal leaders voted to ratify Indonesian sovereignty over Irian Jaya. Independence leaders and human rights activists say the vote was a total sham because the representatives of the natives had been ordered to comply or be killed.

Wahid is perhaps the only member of the political elite who would have been happy to question the veracity of this 1969 decision. Don’t forget that before becoming president he had stated his support for a referendum in Aceh.

Sources say that he was keen for a review of West Papua’s status, but opposition from the military and his political opponents forced him to back down. The contentious issues of Irian Jaya are likely to remain unresolved for many years to come. The separatist rebels would be better off biding their time and waiting for another Wahid to come along, rather than trying to force freedom by kidnapping and threatening to kill foreigners.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email:  Internet: 

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