Sunday, August 14, 2011

Indonesia Urged to Rein in Kopassus to Give Papua a Chance at Peace

CALLS have intensified for the Indonesian military to drawdown its extensive operational and surveillance presence in West Papua to ease the oppression of locals and pave the way for a fruitful dialogue between Jakarta and the disaffected indigenous people of the region.

Agitation for a new peace accord with West Papua comes as further evidence emerged of the relative impunity of soldiers in the region, where there have been many documented human rights abuses. Last week, three soldiers who murdered and decapitated a priest, Rev Kindeman Gire, were given sentences of between six and 15 months for ''insubordination''.

Responding to revelations in The Age of the extensive spy network operated in West Papua by the elite Kopassus (Special Forces Command) unit that targets civilians, politicians, clergy and even foreign tourists, Human Rights Watch said the surveillance violated freedom of expression and assembly.

''It's outrageous in a modern democratic country like Indonesia that activists, clergy, students and politicians are the targets of military surveillance,'' said Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch. ''The military should immediately end its harassment and surveillance of civil society.''

The hundreds of intelligence reports obtained by The Age reveal that Kopassus has scores of paid informants, including journalists, taxi drivers, bureaucrats and clan leaders, and views anyone raising grievances about abuses of Papuan people as a dangerous separatist who needs to be monitored. But a group of 18 Indonesian academics, including professors at some of the country's leading universities, have urged the central government to stop using military force to solve the problems in West Papua.

''The problems in Papua involve many factors, including history, politics, economics, sociocultural issues and, of course, welfare. Papua's issues cannot be simplified to only separatism,'' the group said. ''Only by using dialogue can we determine the problems in Papua and find the best ways to solve them.''

There have been consistent reports of soldiers murdering and torturing civilians in Papua, as well as torching villages, as they search for the small band of armed separatists known as the OPM-TPN. Rev Kindeman Gire was murdered in March last year in the remote
highlands of Puncak Jaya regency. He was assaulted by soldiers as he waited for a bus that was bringing him some fuel. After he resisted, one of the soldiers shot him and the three men then decapitated the body and hid it to avoid detection.

At a court martial, they were sentenced to six, seven and 15 months in prison for the atrocity. Markus Haluk, secretary of the Central Highlands Papuan Student Association, said the sentence was more evidence ''there is no justice for Papuans''. Ridha Saleh, of Indonesian human rights organisation Komnasham, said reports from the group's staff in Papua were coming in that Kopassus had embarked on a new sweep of villages in Puncak Jaya. ''If it is true, it will disturb the peaceful dialogue we've been seeking. Papua cannot be solved by a military or security operation. We've been communicating with the OPM in Papua and they have agreed that peaceful dialogue is the best way. But such an operation would deliberately disturb the communication we've been building.''
by Tom Allard, Jakarta

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