Violence has again broken out in Indonesia’s troubled province of West Papua, with the Australian-supported counter-terrorism police squad Densus 88 leading the attack. In the latest violence, there are unverified but fairly detailed reports of 10 West Papuans being killed during flag-raising ceremonies at three locations across West Papua. Dozens have also been arrested in these otherwise peaceful ceremonies.
Densus 88 has been the subject of a number of critical reports, notably for being used to suppress political dissent and not in its primary counter-terrorism role.
The West Papua National Freedom Army (TPN-PB) -- the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) -- organised flag-raising ceremonies on May 1 across the province to mark West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said in response to the violence:
"These latest incidents are unfortunate examples of the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression and excessive use of force in Papua. I urge the government of Indonesia to allow peaceful protest and hold accountable those involved in abuses."
West Papua Legislative Council deputy speaker Demianus Jimmy Idjie condemned the use of violence by the police as a group of West Papuans attempted to hoist the Morning Star flag. "Seeing these people’s wounds, the shooters were not trying to disperse the rally, they were actually aiming at the protesters," he said.
According to several reports, two protesters were shot dead in Sorong, on the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, with another three wounded and many more arrested. It is understood that four people were also killed and a further 20 arrested in the mining town of Timika, south of the central Maoke Mountain Range, and a further four shot dead in Biak, on Suipori Island, just north of the mainland, again with many more arrests.
The attacks against the protests were said to be led by Densus 88 officers, supported by conventional soldiers. Densus 88 officers arrested a further 22 activists on Saturday.
In response to this latest round of violence, a TPB-PB spokesman has called on the Indonesian government to enter into talks aimed at a peaceful resolution to West Papua's outstanding claims.
A police spokesperson, Senior Commander I Gede Sumerta Jaya, denies allegations that Densus 88 officers shot two men during the Sorong protest. However, he says the police will investigate the allegations. "It’s a hasty conclusion to condemn the police or the military as responsible for the deaths," he said, as no bodies had been found by police. Unconfirmed photos of what appear to be the bodies have been made available.
According to the UN's Pilay:
"Since May 2012, we have received 26 reports concerning alleged human rights violations, including 45 killings and cases of torture involving 27 people. While many incidents relate to communal violence, serious allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement officials persist."
"There has not been sufficient transparency in addressing human rights violations in Papua. I urge Indonesia to allow international journalists into Papua and to facilitate visits by the Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council."
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.