It seems that no matter how cordial Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is or how much it is desired to be so, perennial issues continue that call aspects of that relationship into question. Critically, the gap between how Australia official engages with Indonesia and how that engagement is more widely viewed within Australia continues to test the relationship.
The Indonesian government’s attempt to initiate dialogue with West Papuan independence activists has declined into farce, following the shooting on 14 June of key West Papuan leader Mako Tabuni. Tabuni’s killing follows seven other recent shootings of West Papuans by Indonesian police and soldiers.
Despite eye witnesses saying that Tabuni was unarmed and trying to flee Indonesian police, Indonesian police spokesman, Senior Commissioner Johnannes Nugroho claimed that Tabuni was armed with a police pistol.
Last Thursday, however, Indonesian police chief General Timur Pradopo said Tabuni had been shot while trying to seize a pistol from police officers. ‘Prior to the capture, a conversation took place,’ Pradopo said in an official statement. ‘Then the gun of a police officer was seized, so other police members protected [the officer].’
The shooting of one of West Papua’s independence leaders, Kelly Kwalik, has opened up new opportunities for a negotiated resolution to that troubled territory’s long-running problems. Kwalik was one of two senior commanders of the Free Papua Organisation’s National Liberation Army (OPM/TPN), and had a reputation as being among the OPM hard-liners.However, despite recent Indonesian army claims, he was not behind a recent spate of shooting near the enormous Freeport gold and copper mine, a claim which was accepted by local police.
Kwalik’s death came after an informer told another group of police that he was behind the shooting, and where he was hiding. In an attempt to arrest him, police shot Kwalik in the leg. However, he died in hospital, in circumstances that remain unclear.