admin's picture


By Denise Leith

On 31 August, 2002 fourteen employees of the Freeport mining company were shot on the road leading to the company town of Tembagapura high in the mountainous interior of West Papua. PT Freeport Indonesian, an operating subsidiary of the American transnational mining company Freeport-McMoRan, built the town which services its principal asset, the largest gold mine on Earth and the world’s lowest price copper mine in this isolated region. Three people were killed in the incident, one Indonesian and two Americans with eleven others injured.

The Indonesian military (TNI), which has maintained a dominant, frightening and often violent presence in the company’s mining concession, immediately blamed the West Papuan independence group the Free Papua Movement (OPM) which has been waging a low intensity war mainly with bows and arrows against Jakarta’s control since the highly disputed incorporation of their homeland into the Indonesian archipelago in 1969. Without hesitation the American and Indonesian governments branded this an act of terrorism with Indonesia taking the opportunity to lobby Western governments to have the perpetrators of this heinous crime categorised as a terrorist group. According to Imron Cotan, the deputy chief at the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, Indonesia "would like to see them (the perpetrators of the crime) being curtailed in the sense that they will not be able to garner financial support." The issue was brought up again last week by Jakarta at the annual talks between Australia and Indonesia on regional security.

Because of their thirty-year fight for independence the OPM are viewed by the TNI as a terrorist group. Yet any cursory examination of history would show that under such a definition the American Indians, the Australian Aborigines, and black South Africans would also be classified as terrorists as would individuals such as Nelson Mandela and Xanana Gusmao. Like the West Papuans these people fought against their violent colonial oppressors who stole their land, exploited their resources, undermined their culture and attempted to destroy their nation. In the current international political climate such a classification would give Jakarta the green light to wage a full-scale military operation against the traditional people.

With the exception of the years when the disparate groups, which initially represented the military, fought for independence from their own colonial masters, the Dutch, TNI has never functioned in a conventional sense as defender of the state against an external threat. According to the institution’s own mythology, as co-founder of the Indonesian state, its defining mission has always been to hold the state together. Under this doctrine its greatest threat and its most feared enemy has always been the independence movements within the Republic.

Historically TNI has essentially operated with impunity under the blind eye of the international community so that a continued exemption from punishment, which in West Papua has meant that no high-ranking officer has ever been held accountable for his men’s actions, encourages the continuation of human rights violations. When undeniable proof of military involvement has been established the generals in Jakarta ignore their critics and avoid responsibility by claiming such actions were committed by ‘rogue elements’. While demanding responsibility and accountability within their own militaries the Western democracies have continually found it in their political, economic and strategic interests to accept far less from their Indonesian allies.

Under Major-General Mahidin Simbolon, who was promoted for overseeing the bloodbath in East Timor after the independence vote and is now commander of the military in West Papua, a largely unreported campaign of terror and intimidation is being waged in West Papua against independence leaders and human rights activists. According to a statement issued by West Papua’s democratically elected Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) Simbolon is reported to have told his troops, "We must kill as many of our enemy as possible. Human rights are something we must not worry about but must consider." Toward this end not only have most of the leaders of the independence movement experienced interrogation and/or imprisonment but in November 2001 West Papuan leader Theys Eluay was assassinated by Kopassus troops. As usual the military denied responsibility until it could no longer do so. Today middle ranking and non- commissioned officers are being held as suspects and may be tried before a military court for ‘insubordination’. With the military controlling the trial and the lower ranking officers being charged with insubordination responsibility will not reach the generals in Jakarta.

After the leaking of a secret document in June this year the West Papuan chief of police Major-General Made Pastika confirmed plans for Operasi Adil Matoa which is generally seen as a campaign by the police and military to target organisations and individuals promoting independence within the province. On 23 June Yafet Yelemaken, a PDP member, tribal leader and independence activist from Wamena, died in agony from poisoning. He was the third known West Papuan activist to die of poisoning in mysterious circumstances this year. No one had been found responsible for these deaths. Prominent independence and peace activists such as John Rumbiak have also received death threats while they and their organisations, together with lawyers defending political prisoners, have been forced to operate under oppressive military surveillance and intimidation. Yesterday we heard that while in police custody an assassination attempt was made on independence leader Benny Wenda’s life with his spokesperson, Agus Walilo, taking the brunt of the axe attack.

Adding to this culture of fear and instability in West Papua has been the reported influx earlier this year of over 4000 more troops into the province together with the training and funding of East Timorese type militia groups such as Satgas Merah Putih by the Indonesian military. At the same time Laskar Jihad warriors, with the express intent of waging war against Christians, who they see as working to undermine the Muslim state of Indonesia, have also been strengthening their presence in the province under the approving eye of the military.

In the face of such aggression and in defiance of what is seen as highly provocative acts by TNI the West Papuans have declared their homeland a ‘zone of peace’ and claim they are committed to maintaining their calls for peaceful and democratic political dialogue with Jakarta to resolve their differences. At the same time they are actively promoting their quest for independence through a vocal international campaign while planning to lodge a legal challenge to the Act of Free Choice, which led to the incorporation of their Melanesian land into the Indonesian archipelago.

In the light of this extraordinary provocation by the military the West Papuan’s ability to maintain a policy of peaceful coexistence, non-retaliation and open dialogue is their challenge. If they continue to succeed it will turn out to be the military’s greatest nightmare. Without evidence of violence Jakarta will find it difficult to convince the international community that the OPM is a terrorist organisation. Moreover, it is well nigh impossible for the military to take the moral high ground in order to discredit the independence movement or even justify physically waging a war against it when it is the West Papuans advocating peaceful dialogue while the military is partaking in terrorist’s acts.

George W Bush has been lobbying hard to have US funding for TNI reinstated to aid in his fight against global terrorism yet it is one of the many ironies of Realpolitiks that the group he insists on supporting are themselves apparently supportive of the terrorist organisation Laskar Jihad. Does supporting an organisation that supports a terrorist organisation constitute one’s own support of a terrorist organisation?

Why has there been a deafening silence from Freeport, Washington and Jakarta since their initial outcries of terrorism? Compare this to the response to the killing of the Daniel Pearl in Afghanistan earlier this year when Washington and Pearl’s employees, the Washington Post, waged a high-profile international pressure campaign to have his killers brought to justice. Why have Freeport and Washington made sure that none of the survivors of the attack been allowed to speak with the press? Why have their friends in the company only been able to contact them through a company representative with replies also screened by the company?

What will happen if John Rumbiak’s findings from his investigation into the incident are proven to be correct and the Indonesian military is found responsible for the recent killings in the Freeport concession? Will Jakarta and Washington continue to call it an act of terrorism? Will Western nations such as the United States, Australia and Britain, who have traditionally nurtured close relationships with TNI, heed the Indonesian government’s desperate plea to curtail support for the terrorist group that killed the Freeport employees and thus refuse to support TNI? Or will we once again let the Indonesian generals get away with their crimes against humanity by accepting the absurdity of ‘rogue elements’? How many ‘rogue elements’ can be said to constitute the sum of the whole?

After the release of Rumbiak’s findings the Indonesian military has said that it will sue the quietly spoken human rights activist if he is unable to prove his claims for they state he is sullying the military’s "good name". One could be forgiven for thinking that the military does a credible job of sullying its own "good name".

How long will the voters in the West accept the fallacious argument of their governments that has patently failed for over fifty years that working with the Indonesian military to promote human rights is better than calling them to account? Question: When is a terrorist organisation not a terrorist organisation? Answer: When it is an ally of the West.

Denise Leith, djleith@hotmail.com  Denise Leith is the author of The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto’s Indonesia, which is due for release by the University of Hawai‘i Press in November 2002.

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

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment