[R-G] Fw: (Asia Times) Storm brewing in Papua
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Southeast Asia - January 24, 2004
Storm brewing in Papua
By Tom Benedetti
A storm is quietly but rapidly gaining force in an overlooked corner of
the world. Papua (formerly West Papua or Irian Jaya) is being ravaged in
an escalating program of repression by the Indonesian military.
Invaded by Indonesia in 1963, Papua is still under siege as its native
people struggle for justice and self-determination against overwhelming
odds. Indonesia gained control of the region through a controversial
United Nations "referendum" in 1969. One thousand locals were forced to
vote openly in front of armed soldiers, and told they would be shot unless
the vote supported integration with Indonesia. Not surprisingly, the vote
was unanimous. Those who campaigned against Indonesia leading up to the
so-called referendum were labeled as subversives and assassinated, their
villages strafed and bombed. Since then, raising the Papuan flag has been
punishable by death.
Civil society in Papua (a loose coalition of 250 or more distinct tribes)
has repeatedly called for a Zone of Peace, requesting that the Indonesian
army and militia groups lay down arms and respect human rights so
conflicts can be resolved through dialogue. However, anyone promoting even
peaceful alternatives to full and unquestioned integration with Indonesia
is an immediate target for arrest, torture or assassination by Indonesian
This month, journalist and filmmaker Mark Worth was found dead, just two
days after Australian television announced the premiere of his documentary
on Papua's struggle for self-determination. If murdered, as many believe,
Worth is the most recent in a long line of civic and cultural leaders,
academics, journalists and human-rights activists strategically
assassinated. Their heads or bodies are often displayed like trophies to
intimidate compatriots with similar ideas. Yet many Papuans continue to
call for change in defiance of the personal consequences.
In all, at least 100,000 Papuans have been killed during the occupation.
The exact number tortured, disappeared and murdered is much higher, but is
impossible to know since human-rights defenders and journalists are
arrested or assassinated as a matter of course. Hundreds of thousands more
Papuans have been forced from their ancestral land, many dying of
starvation as a result of food sources being destroyed by rapacious
logging. (Virtually all large businesses in Papua are owned and run by the
Indonesian military, or are engaged in major contracts with the military.)
Papuan people reflect some of the oldest and most unique cultures in the
world. Some agrarian cultures in Papua predate Mesopotamia. They will soon
be obliterated unless the outside world steps in.
Last month, Jakarta appointed Colonel Timbul Silaen as the new chief of
police for Papua. Silaen was in charge of security forces in East Timor
during the police-supported massacres in 1999. His co-conspirator in those
atrocities, Eurico Guterres, is now openly, and with Jakarta's consent,
organizing militia forces in Papua while he appeals a jail sentence for
crimes against humanity. These and countless other events present a direct
parallel to Indonesia's well-planned campaign of terror used to
destabilize East Timor and escalate violence after the 1999 vote for
Led by the same men, the genocide this time will likely be carried out
unnoticed as the world is distracted by other events. Similar to the
current situation in Aceh, it is likely that Papua will soon face a total
blackout. Journalists have been banned for years, and it is widely
expected that non-governmental organizations will soon be denied access as
Unlike East Timor, Papua is a huge, wild and often inaccessible area. It
also lacks organized support from the international community. Only a
handful of activists worldwide and very few countries have ever expressed
concern at the UN - tiny Vanuatu being the notable exception. Now more
than ever the Papuan people need the world's attention. They need
diplomatic (rather than military) aid to fend off the increasing might of
a determined invader, and ultimately ever to see justice.
All that most Papuans ask is for a review of the farcical 1969
"referendum" - not independence, not expulsion of the migrants who now
almost outnumber them, not financial or economic aid. Just a review that,
if conducted fairly, should lead to a legitimate referendum on
self-determination - this time conducted in a reasonable way under the
supervision of UN observers rather than Indonesian soldiers.
Papua is the western half of the world's second-largest island, shared
with independent Papua New Guinea and located north of Australia. It
contains 15 percent of the world's languages, and greater ecological
diversity than anywhere else on Earth.
Tom Benedetti is with WestPAN (West Papua Action Network), Canada.
(Copyright 2004 Tom Benedetti.)
Free West Papua ! Free Aceh !
Papua Merdeka !!! Aceh Merdeka !!!
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