Report – By Jamie Small
A prominent West Papuan journalist and activist has visited New Zealand to gather support for West Papua’s inclusion in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) while an Indonesian government crackdown was killing and arresting Papuan demonstrators.
Former editor of Kompas newspaper Otavianus Mote visited in his role ats chair of the five elected “peace negotiator” representatives of West Papua.
He says his visit has raised support among a solidarity group in New Zealand, but he doesn’t think the government is supportive of the cause.
West Papua marked the 50th anniversary of Indonesian occupation last week on May 1.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement condemning the actions of Indonesian police and military forces which reportedly killed at least two pro-independence protesters.
The authorities also arrested at least 20 on April 30 and May 1.
Navi says that over the last year her office has received 26 reports of alleged human rights violations in West Papua, many of which are linked to law enforcement officials.
“I think that peaceful negotiations are possible, but on the other hand, Indonesian troops continue to act against civilians in West Papua,” says Mote.
He says West Papuans have asked permission to exercise peaceful freedom of expression and gathering, but the [Indonesian] government would not allow it.
Previously a Netherlands colony, control of West Papua was handed over to Indonesian dictator Sukarno by a UN authority in 1963 in disputed circumstances. This was part of a broader, militarised struggle by Sukarno to force Western colonial rule out of the area.
In 2001, the region was granted a special autonomy by the Indonesian government. But Mote says the special autonomy status has failed.
The predominantly Melanesian people of West Papua do not identify – ethnically or culturally – with their Javanese colonisers.
Mote says Indonesia is making a concerted effort to fully colonialise West Papua. There is a constant influx of Asian Indonesians to the region, accompanied by oppression and killing of the indigenous people of West Papuan.
Of the 3.5 million people living in West Papua, Mote says currently only 48 percent are West Papuans. He believes that in 10 years’ time, this number could be as low as 20 percent.
“This is a crime against humanity. This is a genocide process,” he says.
On top of this, Indonesia is supporting widespread environmental destruction in West Papua.
The island of Western New Guinea is covered in dense rainforest and Mote says it is a “lung of the world”.
In the southern regency of Merauke, a multi-million dollar joint government and corporate project called the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) is being initiated.
According to Mote, MIFEE could cut down four million hectares of rainforest, and bring in up to six million Indonesian people.
Mote says in the regency of Merauke, only 30 percent of MPs are West Papuan. And even if the local government opposes the project, the central government in Jakarta would go ahead regardless.
“There is nothing we can do,” he says.
The Indonesian government is increasingly building infrastructure at the cost of the environment. One reason for this is the manipulation of local political divisions.
In 1999, there were nine regencies in West Papua. Now there are 31. The Indonesian government has plans to divide the two provinces of West Papua into seven.
The creation of each new province or regency requires the construction of infrastructure. This means cutting down forest and bringing in Indonesian public servants, military and workers. Mote says this is a driving factor in the “extinction” of West Papuans.
“In 10 years, the number of West Papuans [in West Papua] will be 20 percent. This is not a political statement, it is fact.”
Each regency is allowed to build its own military district, and Mote says that two or three regencies together will command “a couple of battalions of Indonesian troops”.
The government has appointed Bambang Darmono to accelerate development in West Papua.
Darmono is an ex-military major, and was notoriously in command of Indonesian occupying forces in the northern Indonesian autonomous region of Aceh from 2002 to 2005 when waging war against the GAM rebels.
He is calling publicly for all new roadway constructions in West Papua to be completed by the military, creating a reason to bring in more troops.
Mote says standard practice in Indonesia is for a captain to be in charge of provincial troops.
“But to control just three and a half million people, we have a couple of generals and an amazing amount of military in West Papua.”
Former Green Party MP Keith Locke says New Zealand should be supportive of all Pacific people, and it should back West Papua’s entry into the MSG, and hopefully its inclusion in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
“If New Zealand doesn’t support its neighbours consistently, it undermines its own reputation for human rights,” he says.
Mote says that once the West Papuan population is suppressed, Papua New Guinea will be the next target for Indonesia.
Colonisation of Papua New Guinea would force refugees into Australia, New Zealand and other surrounding nations.
Also, environmental destruction in West Papua could be affecting global warming, which is a big issue for island nations such as Nauru.
Mote says West Papua is willing to do whatever it takes to get international support in negotiations.
He says the nation is willing to give land and sovereignty to people from Nauru displaced by global warming, and can offer an island for American and allied military bases.
Hone Harawira, leader of the Mana Party, says there is a “cultural and actual genocide” happening in West Papua.
“I am involved [in the West Papua issue] for no other reason than that I see indigenous people being injured by someone else,” he says.
Harawira says the issues facing West Papuan people are similar to Māori issues around the Treaty of Waitangi.
“But the difference there is that Indonesia is a highly militaristic nation.”
He says Indonesia needs to be challenged wherever they are, especially places that are not really Indonesia, like West Papua.
Harawira says that New Zealand needs to “support a call for West Papua to be raised to a clarity status with the PIF so UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon can take up their cause”.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty says: “The New Zealand government never wants to annoy Indonesia, and that’s why we’re doing really inappropriate things involving community policing [in West Papua].”
She says that during the visit of West Papuan activist Benny Wenda earlier in the year, parliament’s speaker David Carter would not allow a forum on West Papua because he had received information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) that it was a politically sensitive topic.
Mote says the United States were given early mining rights in West Papua by the Indonesian government. Even today, the US is getting gold and copper from West Papua, and the United Kingdom is getting oil.
Mote also says Indonesia is using the war on terror as a tool to gain support to crack down on peaceful movements in West Papua. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has drawn comparisons between West Papuan student activists and Islamic extremists.
A common fundraising exercise was reently condemned as “terrorising civilians”.
He says this is empowering the Indonesian government to crack down on West Papuan freedom of expression with international support.
Mote adds: “Indonesia is putting through legislation to enact terrorism law in West Papua.”
Jamie Small is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.