By Charlie Hill-Smith – writer & director Strangebirds in Paradise – West Papuan Story.
The highest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes are the snow-topped crags of West Papua (4884m). A shinning, tropical glacier pokes out of the sweltering green of Asia’s largest rain forests. This is the second largest island on earth, with 15% of all the world’s languages, an encyclopedic biodiversity and a new Elderado for our resource hungry world; welcome to paradise, lock the door!
The last few years has seen a slow burn of resource extraction, violence and colonialism in West Papua. But a constant trickle of murders, disappearances, arrests, torture and a wave of mass civil actions have raised the international volume of this previously silent war.
Most of us know little about the shady goings-on inside the giant forested island just to our north. However, in 1999 we caught a glimpse of the murderous behavior of the Indonesian military (TNI) as they butchered, raped and burnt the civilian population of East Timor and it these same forces that now run West Papua.
Despite great changes in Jakarta for democracy, human rights and civilian rule, the TNI are still a law unto themselves in Indonesia’s far-flung provinces. Only 40% of the TNI’s military budget is supplied by Jakarta, the rest is grafted from the locals and their land in these remote, resource rich locations and West Papua is their holy cash cow.
Although President Yudhoyono, and Prime minister Gillard consistently defend the motives and actions of the Indonesian security forces, a stream of incriminating leaks portrays their real form. Here’s a tiny snap-shot:
In Aug 2009 You Tube screened the torture and murder of potato farmer Yawen Wayeni at Matembu village. This showed the worst elements of the Indonesian military with unequivocal clarity as TNI soldiers taunt Yawen after disemboweling him and sitting around as he slowly dies. In 2010 You Tube again showed TNI soldiers torturing detainees, burning their genitals with burning sticks.
In 2011, a surveillance report from Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) ‘Anatomy of Papuan Separatists’, was leaked. The report laid open the repressive strategies of the TNI and the pervasiveness of their spying on and threatening every echelon of West Papuan society at home and abroad. Jacob Rumbiak, a West Papuan exile, now Australian citizen living in Melbourne; is a major character in my documentary, ‘Strangebirds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story’ and one of the ‘targets’ detailed in the Kopassus report.
Things really heated up in September 2011 when thousands of mine workers at McMoran/RioTinto owned Freeport/Grasberg Mine, went on a lengthy strike, closing the world’s largest gold/copper mine and Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer. The stop-work cost McMoran/RioTinto 30 million dollars production per day. So when the miners downed tools to demand pay increases from a poultry $US1.50 per hour up to a lavish $3.00 per hour, a lot of rich and powerful people took notice.
2011 culminated in the October 19th ‘Third Papuan People’s Congress’. Two hundred language groups from all over West Papua met in the capital Jayapura and elected a President, a Prime minister and declared their independence from Indonesia; demanding that United Nations monitors be deployed. As the congress wrapped up the security forces moved in, opened fire and arrested hundreds of peaceful delegates. Indonesia’s elite anti-terror squad, Densus 88, trained and supplied by Australia, was pivotal in the violence. Six bodies have since turned up in sewers and ditches around town. Theys Elluay was the last President elected by the Congress back in 2000, he was subsequently strangled to death by Kopassus Special Forces.
Then on December 13th 2011, four, full strength TNI combat battalions began a security ‘sweeping operation’ in the Paniai district of West Papua. Reports from local human rights groups say that 27 villages have been attacked, 75 houses burnt down, 6 schools destroyed and at least 18 people murdered. Unconfirmed reports state that helicopters machine-gunned and threw gas grenades into the village of Markas Eduda. It is reported that 10,800 people have fled their villages and are hiding in the jungle; bringing back memories of the 1989 – 93 TNI operations, where the TNI was accused of torturing thousands of innocent people with water boarding, burning off fingers, systemic rape and extra judicial killings.
What part of ‘psychotic, neocolonial ubber-mafia’ doesn’t the Australian government understand? This is not a well-groomed fighting force, the quashers of the Dutch, the saviors of the Indonesian people. This is a self-serving, corporate/pirate mafia with very big guns. It is under financed and looking to make a buck from what ever or who ever can pay. In Jakarta the TNI have been dragged into the 21st century by dedicated democrats, but West Papua is a long way from home and a long way from where anyone can hear you scream. To make matters worse, the long suffering Australian Defense Forces have been forced to train these nasty bastards by successive Australian governments.
It took shocking video pictures of the infamous Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor for the world to take note and support the East Timorese against the barbarity of the Indonesian military. The TNI’s modus operandi is now well known, the evidence is in and it is time for Australia to wake up and realize this human rights disaster is not going away and we are in it up to our necks.