Fears Mount Over Military Activities in Papua

Fears Mount Over Military Activities in Papua
Mon Sep 16, 7:39 PM ET
Jim Lobe,OneWorld US

Amid indications that military units were behind an ambush two weeks ago near the huge Grasberg gold and copper mine owned by Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoran in which two United States teachers and an Indonesian colleague were killed, the International Crisis Group (ICG) is calling for the role of the military in providing security to be substantially reduced.

In a new report released Friday, the Brussels-based group also called on the provincial government of Papua to scale down the role of military-linked companies and businesses involved in local logging and mining operations, a major cause of unrest by indigenous communities there.

“There’s a direct correlation between injustice in the management of natural resources and the strength of pro-independence sentiment in Papua,” according to Sidney Jones, ICG’s Indonesia project director who has also worked as the Indonesia expert for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“There’s little hope for the autonomy option unless Indonesia ends the abusive practices associated with resource exploitation,” she added.

A mineral- and timber-rich province that was promised independence by the Netherlands, the region was annexed by Indonesia with U.S. backing in 1969. Since then it has been home to a simmering insurgency called the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Over the last several years, the conflict has been characterized by sporadic clashes between Indonesian forces and scattered OPM guerrillas and by the largely peaceful independence campaign of the Presidium of the Papuan Council (PPC), an umbrella movement for the many ethnic groups which comprise the province’s indigenous population.

Tensions have increased sharply during the last 10 months since PPC chairman Theys Eluay was murdered by Indonesian soldiers in November, 2001. They have also been heightened by the presence of Laskar Jihad, a radical Islamist group that has reportedly been backed by elements in the military elsewhere in Indonesia.

The August 31 ambush, which the military blamed on the OPM, has increased speculation among Papuans of a broader strategy to destabilize the province in order to justify a major counter-insurgency campaign.

The ambush, the first of its kind against foreign nationals, was carried out with automatic weapons, something which the OPM is not known to possess. Disclosures by the police and the Papua-based Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy over the past week have also cast doubt on the military’s version of events.

An alleged rebel, who soldiers said died in a shoot-out near the ambush site, has since been identified as a military informant who was apparently killed some 24 hours before, a police autopsy found.

The police chief has suggested that soldiers may have carried out the ambush in order to extort money from Freeport. The military in Indonesia has a long record of providing protection to companies in exchange for money and other concessions, according to the ICG.

If more evidence of military involvement emerges, it could set back hopes by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush ( news – web sites)–which is eager to enlist Jakarta’s armed forces in its war on terrorism–to provide tens of millions of dollars in military aid and training that were suspended after military-backed militias rampaged through East Timor ( news – web sites), another annexed province, in 1999.

A team of investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ( news
– web sites)) is expected to arrive in Indonesia this week to aid a police inquiry into the killings, government officials in Jakarta were reported as saying Sunday. FBI involvement is not unusual in high-profile cases in which U.S. citizens were the victims.

The Grasberg operation, the world’s largest gold and copper mine, has long been a source of tension in Papua. Freeport originally gained rights to the mine through a close relationship with the former dictator Suharto ( news – web sites), without consulting the indigenous Papuan population.

Reliant on the military for security, Freeport has also been accused of countenancing serious human rights abuses committed by the military against local communities who until recently have received very little of the wealth produced by the mine.

Elsewhere in the province, logging companies, many from other Asian countries, have also gained concessions. These companies, which increasingly engage local partners, are also accused of widespread abuses, such as environmental destruction and using the military or police to intimidate protestors, according to the ICG report.

Under a new autonomy regime offered by Jakarta, Papuans should receive a greater share of the wealth extracted from their lands. But the report says such concessions will not be adequate to quell the unrest unless it is accompanied by more local control over the companies’ operations, regulation to curb social and environmental damage, and a much-reduced role for the military and police in ensuring security.

Reported by Kori Hendricks Breschini, September 17, 2002

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