Questions are being asked about the role that the partly Australian funded and trained elite Indonesian police squad, Densus (Detachment) 88, has played during the recent violence in West Papua. Set up in the wake of the Bali terrorist bombings, Densus 88’s mandate was to tackle the rise of domestic terrorism in Indonesia. Australian support might have been motivated by revenge as well: 88 Australians were killed in the Bali attack. While acclaimed for capturing or killing known and suspected terrorists, Densus 88 also gained a reputation for extreme violence: many suspects being killed rather than arrested. Now reports are suggesting that Densus 88 is operating in West Papua, possibly clandestinely, and has been responsible for the assassination-like killing of Papuan political activist, Mako Tabuni, on June 14.
While Indonesian National Police spokesman, Saud Usman Nasution, has denied Densus 88 is operating in West Papua he has left the door open for their involvement, saying in the Jakarta Globe on June 27, “Densus will be deployed if terrorism occurred there.” However other reports, for instance from Kontras Papua, a local human rights organization, state that Densus 88 is already operating in West Papua “carrying out undercover activities” (Cenderwasih Pos, June 23). Kontras Papua believes that Densus 88 was involved in the Tabuni killing – where the victim is reported to have been standing in the street eating betel nut when three unmarked cars pulled up nearby. With no provocation a person emerged from one car and shot the victim dead.
Police report that the victim had tried to snatch a weapon from the plainclothes police involved and was killed in the resulting fracas. Police also claim that Mako Tabuni was wanted for a series of shootings that had occurred in Jayapura over the previous few weeks: a claim that seems unlikely given his role as Deputy Director of KNPB (the West Papua National Committee), which is a non-violent political organization. Tabuni had also been publicly calling for an independent investigation into the recent shootings of which he was accused. Nonetheless, any charges should have been heard in court and given due legal process, now impossible with Tabuni’s death. Other reports of Densus 88 activities in West Papua have come from respected Papuan leaders. Reliable sources observed Densus 88 police arrest KNPB member, Zakeus Hupla, in the lobby of the Dhanny Hotel, Entrop, Jayapura, on the morning of June 23. Other reports indicate further arrests of KNPB members by Densus 88 and their subsequent torture. According to family members, no arrest warrants were issued by Indonesian police for these arrests, and the Jayapura police deny that the KNPB members are in their custody. Indeed it is unclear if these men have been arrested, abducted or ‘disappeared.’
These events are of genuine interest and concern to Australia because Australian taxpayers’ money is spent training and maintaining Densus 88. This organization has a legitimate role to play in countering the rise of terrorism, but it should act strictly within its organisational mandate. If Australian taxpayers are indeed partially funding a clandestine force involved in killings, abduction and torture of Papuan activists an unacceptable situation has developed. These events and allegations must be comprehensively investigated and all funding for Densus 88 frozen until either the allegations have been disproved or the individual police officers guilty of crimes arrested and tried in an open court. We call on the Australian government to immediately halt the funding of Densus 88, to investigate the claims of its misconduct, and to apologise to the Papuan people if they are proven to be true.
Dr. Jim Elmslie West Papua Project co-convener
Dr. Peter King West Papua Project co-convener
Dr. Cammi Webb-Gannon West Papua Project co-ordinator
Joe Collins Australia West Papua Association (Sydney)
Budi Hernawan OFM Australian National University
Eko Waluyo Indonesian Solidarity
Jason Macleod University of Queensland