MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Should US Resume Military Ties with Indonesia?

Published by MAC on 2001-09-15


Should US Resume Military Ties with Indonesia? Reflections from a Papuan Perspective

by John Rumbiak

Supervisor ELSHAM - Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy in Papua

[This paper was the basis of my presentation in the U.S. in June of 2002, during an educational campaign at the Asia Society in New York City on 17 June and before members of the U.S. Congress, Senators and the State Department in Washington, D.C. June 19 21]

A. Introduction: Brief Historical Context

Situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea, West Papua (also known as the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya or Papua now) was given over to Indonesia when Dutch colonial rule ended in 1963. The questionable “Act of Free Choice” elections in 1969 confirmed Indonesian hegemony here. West Papua is a mineral-rich area whose reserves of gold, uranium, nickel, natural gas, and other resources are coveted by a number of foreign mining companies operating there under protection of Indonesian security forces. As a result of the foregoing political and economic developments, West Papua’s 2.5 million people continue to bear ongoing challenges to their human rights and dignity as a people. For nearly 40 years, there has been a failure on the part of the international community to address a “culture of impunity” that has tolerated militarism and oppression in West Papua, a situation that bears obvious parallels to earlier conditions in East Timor. More than 100,000 Papuans have been killed over 38 years of this “integration” into Indonesia. Although Indonesian transmigrants continue to be moved into the region, the indigenous people of West Papua continue to seek ways to insure the peaceful participation of the entire population in a democratic society. As the United States contemplates resuming military ties with Indonesia, it is important that legislators and opinion-makers be aware of developments in West Papua and the parallels to the situation in East Timor, which was the locus of many human-rights abuses and violent activity in recent decades.

B. Worrisome Developments Since September, 2001

From a human-rights standpoint, developments in Papua are growing more worrisome, with implications for the larger geopolitical stability of the region. Since September 11, 2001, we have detected a movement of Laskar Jihad forces Moslem war fighters, who see West Papuan movement toward separatism as essentially a Christian movement. (Christians make up 95 percent of Papua’s population, and Christians are linked with separatist movements in East Timor, Maluku, Poso, and East Nusa Tenggara). In November 2001, Theys Hiyo Eluay, a leader in the Papua Council Presidium (PDP), a pro-independence political organization, was assassinated, and the Indonesian authorities have classified his murder as an ordinary crime, not a political act, despite evidence to the contrary.

Decades of repressive rule by Indonesia, coupled with unequal distribution of development to its provinces, left Papua behind. This has only served to fuel more resentment towards Jakarta. When the reform era (reformasi) did come following Suharto’s resignation in 1998, Papua, like the rest of Indonesia, wasted no time in capitalizing on it. Thousands of Papuans openly displayed their dissatisfaction and protested to Jakarta over the long-term injustices they had endured. In this flurry of optimism, grand meetings were convened that subsequently resulted in the establishment of the (PDP), and Theys Hiyo Eluay was elected its chair. PDP’s vision of propelling Papua to freedom was strongly rooted in peaceful transition. The PDP was able to garner support from all sections of the Papuan community. It was the first time the Papuans were politically and legally allowed to organize themselves within Indonesia’s jurisdiction in order to embark on a political journey that would eventually and hopefully result in separation from Indonesia.

The PDP had been gaining momentum when Theys Eluay was assassinated in November, 2001. Even though Papua has not drifted to a state of chaos, the social and political situation there is turning to the worse. Incidents upon incidents involving both the Indonesian military and the TPN/OPM (the military wing of the independence movement) continue to mark the political, social, and security establishment in Papua. A series of inquiry teams were sent from Jakarta to try to probe into Theys’ assassination, all so far unsatisfactorily. Despite the fact that evidence and witnesses in the Theys Eluays case definitely point to the Indonesian military (Kopassus), the KPN (state inquiry team into the Theys case) has boldly classified this controversial incident as an ordinary crime, ignoring any obvious involvement by the state.

Since these developments, Papuans have been pleading that international criminal and legal experts be included so that the truth can be eventually determined. The military, on the other hand, has been very active in fabricating new events to divert the attention of the Papuans away from this case. Military impunity, no doubt, underpins this legal reluctance.

Despite the skepticism of the Papuan people toward the Indonesian authorities’ handling of the Theys Eluay assassination case, they remain hopeful that an impartial inquiry would eventually be implemented, including relevant international experts.

C. The Rise of Laskar Jihad

There have been varied arguments circulating concerning the motives for Theys Eluay’s assassination. The fact that the Indonesian military (Kopassus) is implicated in this case has not deterred them from engineering conflicts in Papua, either directly or indirectly. Since the assassination of Theys Hiyo Eluay, there has been a noticeable rise in the presence of Islamic Jihad militias in Papua, a development that should be viewed with concern. These forces have already wreaked havoc in Maluku and Poso. Laskar Jihad has already established six regencies (local bases of operation) in West Papua and have some 3000 members there.

There is a definite and clear connection between the Indonesian military and the emergence of these Laskar Jihad forces. The so-called “Green Military” faction, which supports Muslim authority, is a prime source of many of these activities.

There are currently eight Pakistani men in Sorong (Papua) providing military training to local non-Papuan transmigrants. On 22 January 2002, Ali Purnama (Ahmad Bauw), a local Jihad commander, was arrested in the town of Fak Fak for possessing a case of hand-made rifles, 10 grenades, bullets, and other deadly weapons. In the town of Sorong, Laskar Jihad has established an office under the name of the Communication Forum of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (FKAS).

When interviewed via telephone by an ELSHAM staff member, Ayit Syamsuddin, chairman of FKAS said that his organization had been in Papua for two years with an aim of assisting in Papuan development. When asked about the arrest of Ali Purnama in Fak Fak, Ayit denied that Ali Purnama was a Laskar Jihad member.

Ja’far Umar Thalib, the supreme commander of Laskar Jihad, was interviewed by Bangkit magazine on 7 April 2002. In this interview, he conceded that his organization (FKAS) has been active to promote its Dakwah (Islamic mission) and that it had established a presence in six local regencies in Papua (Jayapura, Fak Fak, Sorong, Timika, Nabire, Manokwari). In another interview by Radio 68 in Jakarta, Ja’far denied ELSHAM’s allegation that 3000 jihad members were present in Papua, stating that only 200 Laskar Jihad personnel had been sent there.

Laskar Jihad’s vision for Papua can be summarized in three sentences :

1. Papuans are heathens needing conversion to Islam (Papua is a “land of no religion” in its view);
2. As the majority of Papuans are Christians, the independence sentiments are viewed as a Christian separatist movement worth crushing;
3. Papua is an integral part of Indonesia and Laskar Jihad will do whatever they can including collaborating with security forces to maintain the national integrity.

In a February 2002 AFP interview, a local Makassar Commander of Laskar Jihad admitted that the presence of Laskar Jihad in Papua is to fight the separatist movement there. A Laskar Jihad bulletin dated 15 January 2002 stated that Laskar Jihad was waging war against Christians because the Christians supported separatist movements in Maluku, Poso, East Timor, East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua. Evidence gathered by ELSHAM Papua pointed out that Laskar Jihad members have been involved in disseminating hatred against Christians during their dakwah in mosques.

D. Recent Threats to Human Rights Activists

Terror and intimidation being exerted now on human rights activists in Wamena (Papua) serve to support the notion that the Indonesian security force is on a mission to exterminate human-rights activists there following the suspicious death of Yafet Yelemaken, a notable tribal leader and local pro independence activist. Evidence of threats were felt by these people including Luis Maday, ELSHAM’s Papua staff person in Wamena. Four members of the police and Mobile Brigade asked witnesses about the whereabouts and activities of the concerned activists.

On 19 June 2002 at around 23.15 Papua time, four police members carrying rifles visited the house of Paulus Logho (aged 32), head of Abenaho village, also a local ELSHAM Papua volunteer. The four police members were met at the door by the wife of Paulus Logho who 'informed' the policemen that they came to the wrong house. They said they wanted to buy OPSUS rice Paulus was said to be selling. Upon learning from Paulus' wife that he (Paulus) was in Wamena town, the policemen said they would go there to find him.

On 24 June 2002, Yulius Nirigi (an ELSHAM Papua volunteer from Mapnduma) was watching a soccer game taking place near a Kopassus base when he was accosted by an unknown Kopassus member who asked him if he (Yulius) knew something about Luis Maday. The Kopassus member said that they had followed Maday the other day when Luis went into the house of the late Yafet Yelemaken to join the mourning crowd. They asked Yulius some questions regarding the situation of the burial of the late Yafet Yelemaken, and about Luis Maday. The Kopassus man said they wanted to give some clothes they purchased in Jawa to Luis Maday. Luis, said the Kopassus, would sell the items.

On 26 June 2002, Karel Wamafma (a World Wide Fund worker), who is an ELSHAM Papua volunteer in Wamena, received information from his colleague in Jayapura, that reliable inside sources in the Polda Papua (Provincial Police) had told Karel's colleague about Polda Papua targeting a number of human rights activists in Wamena. The names mentioned were : (1) Luis Maday, aged 32, ELSHAM Papua in Wamena; (2) Karel Wamafma, aged 37, a Wamena-based WWF worker and ELSHAM Papua volunteer; (3) Laurens Lani, aged 42, the director of Bina Adat Walesi Foundation. The men mentioned (including the late Yafet Yelemaken) were accused of creating Laskar Kristen (Christian Militias) to counter Barisan Merah Putih (Red and White militias) and Laskar Jihad in Wamena.

As supervisor of ELSHAM, I (John Rumbiak) have also received death threats as a result of my role in coordinating the investigation into the Theys Eluay assassination.

E. Two Organizations to Watech

At least two organizations have been active recently: Barisan Merah Putih militias and the Yayasan Lembah Baliem foundation, both of which are essentially creations of the Indonesian military; parallels with the East Timor model are obvious.

Barisan Merah Putih. Though not wearing religious attributes, the Barisan Merah Putih militias (BMP), East Timor Militia style, has close ties to the military and Laskar Jihad. ELSHAM Papua learned, that on 19 March 2000, in Wayati village in Fak Fak, the Barisan Merah Putih militias equipped with a number of assault rifles actively collaborated with members of the mobile brigade police in assaulting the pro-independence Wayati villagers. In April 2002, the Jayawijaya 1702 Regional Military Commander established the Wamena chapter of Barisan Merah Putih. 80 new members were recruited.

Yayasan Lembah Baliem (YLB). This foundation was established under close coordination with BIN (the Indonesian National Intelligence Bureau). On 6 March 2002 YLB sponsored the visit of 240 Papuans to Jakarta, facilitated by General Priono, head of BIN, and the Minister for Social and Political Affairs, Bambang Yudoyono. In Jakarta, the group met President Megawati and other top national leaders. Leaked documents of YLB worryingly propose the creation of Barisan Merah Putih (Red and White militias). The division of Papua into three new provinces was also mentioned in the documents; this would enable the military to establish more command posts throughout the region.

F. Attitiudes of the Indonesian Authorities and Military

Neither the provincial government nor the military authority of Papua are doing anything to ease the situation in Papua given the developments related above. The military are not in favor of an autonomy law in Papua because it would reduce the influence of the security forces who have enjoyed 38 years of operation in Papua. Official support for the Jihad might be seen in the personal visit of Indonesian vice president Hamzah Haz to the imprisoned Ja’far Umar Thalib and John Wanane, a Christian Papuan and the newly reelected regent of Sorong, owes a great deal of gratitude to Muslim hardliners in Sorong for his return to power. During his campaign, John had repeatedly threatened that if he was not reelected, he would seek assistance from Muslim Jihad members to destabilize Sorong town. In December 2001, when Jafar Umar Thalib visited Sorong, he was invited for dinner at John Wanane’s residence. Abdul Taher Renhoward, a Laskar Jihad member from Maluku, was arrested in Refra village in Fak Fak on 28 May 2002, after confidently revealing his identities and purpose of arrival. After being taken to the police for investigation. he was released a few days later. In his possession was a map of Ambon town and names of important police officers there.

There has been a lenient reaction on the part of the Papuan government and security authority in relation to these developments. Despite obvious evidence regarding Laskar Jihad and the Red/White Militias in certain parts of Papua, Kapolda of Papua (Papua’s police chief) continues to deny this even though police in Sorong had arrested a young non-Papuan man there who was in possession of a hand-made rifle and Molotov cocktails. The man had just arrived from Maluku. Alleged Laskar Jihad members who have been arrested and detained so far have not properly undergone court procedures. When pressed for an explanation by journalists, the police gave no satisfactory answers.

On 3 March 2002 in Sorong, under the coordination of Christian churches (BKSGK), 33 representatives from churches, community groups, youth, women, and NGOs, issued a joint statement rejecting the presence of Laskar Jihad in Sorong and Papua.

Despite these provocations, the Papuan public in general has been relatively calm--a stance that has proven effective so far. Even the recent arson at Theys’ grave proved to be a futile attempt at provocation, as was a recent incident at Freeport’s OB1 facility.

ELSHAM has evidence that the Indonesian military has been involved in conducting operations in Papua. In Betaf, about 90 km west of Jayapura, massive intimidation was caused to the civilian population via kidnappings and extra-judicial killings. Part of the problem is structural: according to Indonesian Corruption Watch, only 25 percent of the military budget is supplied by the government, requiring them to raise funds by questionable means, as by seeking contributions from large mining companies, for example. Pertamina, the state oil and gas company in Fak Fak regency, complained to ELSHAM in May 2002 about the Kabassus (Indonesian Special Forces) asking for money from that corporation.

The growth of Laskan Jihad forces in Papua is beginning to draw the attention of the international community. Vice President Hamzah Haz is a Muslim fundamentalist who is in favor of changing the Constitution of 1945 to one that would increase the role of Islam in the government. Major General Mahiddin Simbolon, one of the high military officials who masterminded the establishment of pro-Indonesia military in the former East Timor, is now the military commander of Papua.

G. Impact on Geopolitical Strategies

The strategy of Indonesia to “wash its hands” of such matters as the assassination of Theys Hiyo Eluay, and the growing Laskar Jihad activities in Papua, are troubling developments that should be of concern to the United States as it considers the resumption of military ties with Indonesia. The issue of dignity for the people of Papua is fundamentally a human-rights issue, of course, but the impact of these developments has strong implications for stability in the region and the long-term interests of the United States. A wide spectrum of opinion, from Indonesia-watchers in the diplomatic corps to human-rights and church groups, are viewing the situation with concern. It is easy to see how the resumption of U.S. military ties with Indonesia can contribute to unstability in the entire South Asia region by giving support to forces within Indonesia that seek the expansion the “culture of impunity” that threatens to expand violent confrontation while violating the dignity of the people of West Papua and elsewhere.


*ELSHAM NEWS SERVICE provides regular reports and information on social and political development and their implication on Human Rights situation and democracy in Papua. The reports and information provided are obtained from ELSHAM PAPUA local, national and international networks. Those interested in subscribing to this service are advised to register to ELSHAM PAPUA. Please provide complete information (Name of institution/ or individual; address, etc). ELSHAM PAPUA is a human right organization with a mission to eliminate militarism, impunity, and to promote Human Rights and democracy education for the people of Papua. ELSHAM PAPUA was founded on 5 May 1998.

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