Several West Papuan activists have been murdered this month and many have been forced to flee their homes. Witnesses say Indonesian security forces are responsible – but no one is listening in Jakarta, reports Alex Rayfield
West Papua is roiling. In the last two weeks a spate of shootings, killings and military violence has surprised even seasoned Papua watchers. But as West Papua bleeds, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono remains silent.
The latest wave of violence started on 29 May when a 55-year-old German born man, Pieter Dietmar Helmut, was shot and wounded at a popular beach in Jayapura.
Although multiple witnesses identified the car from which a Papuan man allegedly shot Helmut, police are yet to make any arrests.
The same day Anton Arung, a primary school teacher, was fatally shot in the head by an unknown gunman as he was standing by a kiosk in the highland town of Mulia.
Four days later, activists from the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a pro-independence youth organisation, protested the shootings. According to witnesses Indonesian police then opened fire.
Five people were wounded in the attack. 23 year-old Yesaya Mirin from Yahukimo village was shot dead while 29 year-old Panuel Taplo remains in a serious condition with bullet wounds.
When KNPB leader Buchtar Tabuni confronted the police at a second demonstration in the capital he was arrested, further inflaming an already tense situation.
Jailed independence leaders Dominikus Surabut and Selphius Bobii and Ruben Magay, a provincial parliamentarian not known for his pro-independence views, have publicly criticised the police’s handling of KNPB and called for Buchtar Tabuni’s release.
As tensions increased text messages circulated warning people to beware of “Dracula” and other such demonic denizens of the night. In West Papua warnings of Dracula and the like are code for people to stay off the streets because of covert military operations.
Similar SMS messages were sent before prominent independence leader Theys Eluay was assassinated in November 2001.
The following week was a particularly bloody one in Jayapura. On Sunday 3 June, university student Jimi Ajudh Purba was stabbed to death by unidentified attackers. A day later, 16 year-old high school student Gilbert Febrian Ma’dika was shot by unidentified assailants on a motorcycle and survived a gunshot wound to his back.
On Wednesday 6 June a civil servant was reportedly shot dead in front of the mayor’s office and the following day a further three people were reportedly shot, two of whom died. One of those attacked was a police officer, Brigadier Laedi.
On the following day, Friday 8 June, Teyu Tabuni, who was affiliated with KNPB, was shot dead as he was standing at a motorcycle taxi parking area in Jayapura. According to a witness, Yopina Wenda, Tabuni was shot four times in the head by a uniformed policeman who then fled the scene.
The following week on 10 and 11 June two more people were reportedly shot dead, one outside a shopping mall and the second close to Cendrawasih University in Abepura.
In the same week that mysterious killings rocked citizens of Jayapura, the highlands of West Papua also bled. On 6 June soldiers from Battalion 756, not regularly stationed in West Papua but brought in for combat duties, knocked over and killed a three year old child, Desi Wanimbo, while riding their motorcycle in the village of Honai Lama on the outskirts of Wamena.
Relatives of the child then allegedly stabbed one of the soldiers to death and badly beat a second.
New Matilda spoke to local Wamena based activists Simeon Dabi and Wellis Doba by phone who said that soldiers then went on a rampage burning 70 houses, killing 22 pigs (an animal highly valued by highland Papuans) while indiscriminately discharging their firearms.
Dabi and Doba both reported 11 people with serious injuries after soldiers shot, stabbed and beat residents. Hundreds fled into the mountains and jungle. Two more Papuans later died of injuries sustained from the military, 40 year-old Elinus Yoman and 30 year-old Dominggus Binanggelo.
Meanwhile in Yapen, an island off the north coast of West Papua, reports are filtering through of military operations. New Matilda spoke to one activist in Yapen who reported by mobile phone that around 60 people — 10 families from 14 different villagers — have sought refuge in the jungle after police and military launched search and arrest operations following a gathering of leaders held by the West Papua National Authority.
The Indonesian government’s response to recent shootings in Jayapura has been to call for assertive action including house-to-house searches for armed combatants. Lt. Gen. Marciano Norman, the chief of the Indonesian Intelligence Agency, told the Jakarta Post by phone that “We have no choice but to do the sweep, as civilians are not allowed to hold guns. Rules must be upheld.”
Ironically, Norman made these comments days before Police admitted a policeman shot dead KNPB activist Teyu Tabuni on 7 June.
The six main groups that the police, military and intelligence agents consistently target in sweeping operations are leaders from the Federal Republic of West Papua who declared independence on 19 October last year, the pro-independence groups KNPB and WPNA, church leaders and tribal leaders.
All these groups are unarmed — fighting words notwithstanding — giving credence to activists’ claims that the purpose of the sweeps is not to maintain security but to trample dissent.
While police and the military blame Papuan separatists, human rights defenders in Papua point the finger at Indonesian security forces.
In an interview with the Jakarta Globe Ferry Marisan from the Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights in West Papua (ELSHAM) said that “Papua is a place for law enforcement to get promoted…. Isn’t it strange that after a series of shootings, the police cannot find the perpetrators? They always claim the perpetrators are unidentified gunmen. They analysed the bullet, conducted ballistic tests but the results were never made public.”
Human rights defenders in West Papua argue that the both the police and military have a vested interest in creating and maintaining conflict to justify their continued presence and to maintain lucrative legal and illegal business interests.
But it is not only business interests at stake. The security forces in West Papua also see themselves as bravely defending the Indonesian state from greater unravelling.
In their eyes this justifies covert operations. Last year New Matilda met two Papuans from Sorong who were paid to attend a ceremony in Manokwari where they were inducted into a civilian squad that would ostensibly assist the police with anti-corruption investigations.
The activists recited oaths of allegiance to the Indonesian state and were given uniforms and ID cards — viewed by New Matilda. Those present at the meeting were then told that a handful would be selected for combat training in Jakarta. In the shadow of Indonesian militia violence in East Timor in 1999 reports like these deeply trouble Papuans.
Local activists are not the only ones raising troubling questions about SBY’s handling of the situation in West Papua. Opposition MP Tubagus Hasanuddin, a member of the Parliament’s Defence Committee, told Radio Australia he wants answers.
“How can there be 30 shootings in one and a half years and not a single case solved?” he asked. “Twenty-seven victims have fallen. We must find out why.”
Hasanuddin’s figures may be on the conservative side but he is proof that there are Indonesians who want to see progress on finding a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in West Papua.
Church leaders like Fr Neles Tebay from the Papua Peace Network argue that action from Jakarta to reign in the security forces is essential because provincial legislators have no control over the police and military.
However, SBY is rapidly running out of time. His presidency expires next year and Papuans are increasingly calling for the United Nations to intervene.
It is said that deeply seated conflict polarises the protagonist’s positions. In West Papua those positions are hardening and the numbers of protagonists are increasing. The police and the military are defending a state that has lost all legitimacy in Papuan eyes.
This reality is not helped by the fact that many in the police and military — over 90 per cent of whom are are Indonesian — hold deeply racist views about the people they are meant to protect.
Politically Papuans’ interests are not represented by the provincial parliament. The DPRD, or local provincial parliament, find themselves caught between demands for independence from their Papuan constituents and a rigid refusal to enter into talks from Jakartan party bosses 3000 kilometres away — even talking is seen as too much of a concession to the independence movement.
In the middle are Papuans, seething with indignation over decades of abuse by the security forces and increasingly vocal about their demands for genuine self-determination.
Time may not be the only problem. Many doubt whether Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono is willing to spend any political capital making good on his repeated promises to solve the Papuan problem with “peace” and “dignity”.
On the contrary SBY has publicly stepped in to protect and defend the security forces when they have been accused of gross acts of violence against civilians and refused to countenance the evidence that state violence is a systemic problem in West Papua.
Downplaying the problem in Papua may win him friends in the military but in the Papuans’ eyes it makes him look ineffectual. It tarnishes his international image as a democrat and strengthens the hand of those inside and outside West Papua who call for independence.
This makes the voices of the church and senior tribal leaders calling for dialogue sound measured and reasonable. The only problem is there is no indication that SBY is listening.