INDEPENDENCE IN TROUBLED PAPUA JUST TOO FAR AWAY

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By Chris McCall

MANIKWARI, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (December 1, 2001 – The Age/Kabar-Irian)---On the streets of Manokwari, the Papuans still whisper in hushed voices that Papua must be free. But today's "independence day" celebrations will be muted.

Across the bay the stunning Arfak Mountains plunge straight down to the sea. They are an awesome sight. Up in the mountains and along the coast live communities only a few generations from the Stone Age. These days they are Christians who, like other West Papuans, regard December 1, 1961, as their independence day.

It was the day the Dutch first allowed them to raise the Morning Star flag. But that was 40 years ago and today independence seems as far away as ever.

Hard to reach and out of the public eye, this sweaty small town on the Birds Head Peninsula attracts few foreigners. It is mainly famous as the place where Christianity first arrived in New Guinea. Publicly, the police insist all is well, yet their officers turn out with assault rifles even for a friendly town football match.

Get a few Papuans on their own, away from the eyes and ears of non-Papuans, and the tension is tangible. According to a local human rights monitoring team, the police regard Manokwari as a nest of rebels.

On June 13, just down the coast in the district of Wasior, five members of the paramilitary police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) were killed by separatist rebels. A non-Papuan civilian also died. A few months before, on March 31, three civilians working for a logging company died in an incident, triggered by a row over compensation for the cut forests.

A police crackdown in the Wasior area followed these incidents. Wasior people say their movements were restricted and houses burned. The Papuan human rights group Els-Ham has listed, by name, at least 11 Papuans who have died. They include an 11-year-old boy, Michael Numayom, whose body was dumped in the sea. Another four are missing. Daniel Yairus Ramar, 45, died at the Manokwari police station from torture. Mr. Ramar was a teacher, a profession widely regarded with suspicion by police, Papuans say.

Reports by the monitoring team also note an incident in September when a group of Papuans were accused of being non-Indonesian citizens and supporting the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). They were beaten up. The Brimob officers in question had been drinking, it said.

"The behavior of the Brimob forces from the Papuan police headquarters in the city of Manokwari is getting worse," noted one report, "both when they are carrying out their duties or when they are not carrying out their duties, drunk or not drunk. A number of citizens of Manokwari said to be careful if you meet the Brio forces. Don't make a stir or oppose Brimob. If that happens the result may be torture until black and blue, or even death."

Local police insist it all has been blown out of proportion.

A new branch of the OPM is said to have emerged in the Wasior area, led by one Daniel Awom. At the same time several local members of the Papuan Task Force, a civilian militia led by the son of slain pro-independence leader Theys Eluay, have disappeared.

And the logging goes on in Wasior. Although such logging firms have permits from the central government to exploit the forest, the local people regard the forest as theirs by tradition and expect compensation.

They can get angry if they do not get it. Logging is a lucrative business and West Papua contains the bulk of Indonesia's uncut rainforests. Many of these businesses have close ties with the military and use soldiers and police for security.

A year after Jakarta crushed the movement to fly the separatist Morning Star flag, and three weeks after the killing of Mr Eluay, this is West Papua: an uncomfortable stalemate.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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