WILL AUSTRALIA ALLOW ANOTHER BALIBO AT FREEPORT?
by Nick Chesterfield
The Freeport mine is the cause of most West Papuan grievances due to the massive plunder of wealth, human rights and environmental abuses, and the effect of acts of genocide on the indigenous population.
Often it takes the death of a white man to get the story of West Papua past the gatekeepers of the media.
With the shooting death of Melbourne man Drew Grant at the massive and controversial Freeport mine in Timika, West Papua, a powerful spotlight has been shone on an otherwise ignored struggle that has claimed an estimated 564,126 people as of late 2008, according to analysis of demographic discrepancies by Sydney University.
The Freeport mine is the cause of most West Papuan grievances due to the massive plunder of wealth, human rights and environmental abuses, and the effect of acts of genocide on the indigenous population. In 2002 it was the site of an attack on American school teachers at the same location, with many widely suspecting the Indonesian military of being behind the attacks blamed on OPM. Declassified documents recently surfaced in the US that showed President Yudhoyono requested the US government ignore critical evidence, including then Papua Police chief I Made Pastika’s assertion that pointed to TNI complicity.
Within hours of the first shooting on July 11, the Indonesian propaganda machine swung into action, blaming the Free Papua movement (OPM) for being behind the attacks. As in 2002, the shooting of foreigners has been used to justify a massive increase in combat military personnel across Papua. In such an environment, it is prudent to be sceptical of the official line, especially when sources on the ground in West Papua are reporting major inconsistencies in the official story.
Once again however, the elephant in the goldfish bowl is sitting quietly in the corner. Years of atrocities across Indonesia and West Papua have shown that almost every act of major violence is connected with the corruption of the TNI, and for the fact that only 20% of their funding comes from the state – the rest they have to raise through “private initiative” or KKN (Korupsi, Kolusi, Nepotsime), the still powerful hallmark of the Suharto years. Freeport pays TNI over US$5 million per year to guard the mine, which although now handed formally to the police, still represents a major source of income for local commanders. Profits generated by control of the illegal mining of the rich tailings and massive volumes of waste, has been a source of constant friction between the “civilian” (paramilitary) police and TNI, often spilling over into violence. A series of bombings near Freeport in 2008 was widely blamed on BRIMOB police units extracting protection “tax” over their illegal tailings mining.
A myriad of possible causes are behind the shootings, each one as likely as the next. Whoever the real culprits are, the situation surrounding the attacks is very murky. West Papua is off limits to foreign media and Timika is closed to outsiders without a vested interested in silence. There are many people who would gain by any instability at Freeport, but the biggest winners would easily be the TNI.
Whilst most international coverage is focused on the strategic and economic implications of the attacks, there is an underreported human story still occurring around Freeport. It is becoming clearer that the shootings are being used as a pretext for increase militarisation right across Papua. Scores of West Papuan villagers around Mimika, mainly old men and young teenagers, have been arbitrarily arrested with excessive force and subjected to what Papua Police Chief Bagus Ekodanto refers to as “intensive interrogations”, which is a well known euphemism for torture. Mass Sweeps across 29 districts are still being carried out by Densus 88 and over 700 Kopassus troops, with several hundred BRIMOB, and past experience has shown that the remote villages will be subjected to all sorts of privations will only come to light through international monitoring.
Papuan social, church, and traditional leaders have all expressed sorrow and dismay at Mr Grant’s death, and have cautioned against any knee jerk responses in blaming West Papuan people, in an area plagued by Indonesian police and military corruption and human rights abuses. Immediate action must be taken to end the violence in West Papua. Security forces must immediately end the intimidation, terror and arrests that are now affecting the innocent civilian inhabitants of Timika as well as acts of violence being perpetrated against Papuans.
Credible and independent international human rights monitors and international media must be allowed immediately into Timika to oversee investigations, and the Indonesian government must guarantee that they can conduct investigations free from harassment and threats to their safety.. The Indonesian security forces cannot be trusted to investigate themselves, especially considering their involvement in local illicit activities, and their past record. Overreaching political issues should not influence the outcome of an investigation. A fundamental point seems to be missing: If the suspects for the shooting are in custody, why are shootings still happening?
Recently, international coverage on entrenched human rights abuses in West Papua has clearly antagonised the TNI. Reports released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have detailed widespread and institutionalised torture and ill-treatment of West Papuan political prisoners by members of the Indonesian Security Forces, including cases by Detachment 88 members and police at Timika. Unchallenged in their impunity (there has yet to be /any/ trials for suspects in human right violations in Papua), the Indonesian military are currently conducting massive sweep operations right across the occupied territory. Since the campaign of black bombings and attacks on police by unidentified personnel during the parliamentary election process (sought to discredit the independence movement), there have been major abuse sand shootings in Yapen, Wembi, Arso, Serui, Nabire, Mimika, Keerom, Jayapura, Merauke, Wamena, Biak, Manokwari, Enaratoli….. this list goes on and on.
Australian Federal Police officers have been in Timika assisting the Indonesian investigation. From the outset the official investigation has been far from transparent, raising significant questions. Evidence was tampered with, and bullets in Mr Grant’s body were removed before the pathologist was able to conduct the autopsy, whilst in the custody of Australian Embassy officials. Were these officers involved in an attempt to hide the identity of the real culprits, and if not, what have they done to ensure transparency? The State news agency Antara revealed recovered bullet casings that were specially made by PT PINDAD for the TNI, a revelation which reveals more than the Indonesian government’s underlying desire to rein in an out-of-control rogue military. It is pretty sickening that Drew Grant’s family will be left with the thought of TNI thugs fingering through his body to remove evidence. According to Matius Murif, deputy chairman of the Papua office of The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), “The attacks are clearly the work of well-trained and organized professionals; That is why they were able to get past layers of security.”
In the interests of transparency, we need to see all the results of AFP investigation, completely unclassified, especially of the ballistics data, and an immediate audit of all Indonesian military and police weapons and ammunition in the area. Australia supplies Aus Steyr rifles which use the bullets found. If the weapons used in the shootings are found to be of Australian supply for TNI use, questions must be raised.
By having AFP officers involved in this investigation, is the Australian government condoning ill treatment, torture and arbitrary arrests, acts which are illegal under Australian law? Australia must make bolder moves to pressure Jakarta to investigate the shooting professionally, and with full adherence to international human rights standards. It must also provide DSD intercepts of Indonesian intercepts of Indonesian military communications surrounding the Freeport shootings, just like they did in Balibo, and the 2002 shootings.
The fact that key targets in the recent Jakarta bombings were Freeport executives Adrianto Machribie and Noke Kiroyan, should not be dismissed as mere co-incidence, a point not lost on the Indonesian president Yudhoyono when he all but accused his rival Prabowo Subianto of being behind both the attacks in Jakarta and Freeport. “Maybe some of them have committed crimes, assassination or murders and escaped justice,” SBY said the day after the attacks, referring to the kidnappings, bombings and assassinations orchestrated by Prabowo (before he was kicked out of the TNI and went into exile with his classmate and friend from Duntroon, King Abdullah in Jordan (all the best war criminals in the world get trained in or by Canberra)). “But this time, we will not let them act like Dracula and angels of death.”
The Indonesian Defence minister conceded the Free Papua Movement is unlikely to be responsible, indicating both the military and the police are responsible, and even went as far as suggesting that Australia itself was behind the attacks. “What I think is don’t let Freeport be closed, because it involves global competition over natural resources there are a number of countries that have an interest in destabilising Freeport,” Sudarsono said. He said foreign NGOs and governments had a history of backing groups that “agitate” in Papua. Asked which countries he was referring to, Sudarsono said: “Apparently many neighbouring countries to the south.”
In seeking not to offend Indonesia, Australia once again runs the risk of creating a case similar to the Balibo Five by once again refusing to call for any transparency and assisting an out of control Indonesian military in its impunity over its mafia behaviour, protection rackets, human rights abuses, illegal business empires. There are no rogue elements involved acting contrary to the military: the entire Indonesian military is rogue, from top to bottom.
Will it take another film in 30 years about the cover-up of circumstances of Drew Grant’s death and concurrent human rights abuses on West Papuans to get the Australian Government to show some backbone over the actions of the TNI? Or like East Timor, is this another prelude to Australia giving yet another green light to Indonesian military human rights abuses under Australia’s watchful head in the sand? The three wise monkey act of Rudd, Smith and Faulkner cannot go on any longer. East Timor came back to sting us in the tail until we had to act, and so will West Papua. It is high time we listened to the call of all those across our region who want the TNI back to their barracks, because friends ignored do not stay friends for long.
Nick Chesterfield is a long time human rights and media worker for West Papua, and has *been closely involved with Human rights and human security issues directly involving Australia’s nearest neighbour, the island of New Guinea, since 1999, most recently consolidating* and training human security monitoring networks across Melanesia.