Papuans want Indonesian troops to leave
27 November 2007
In the wake of civil society's efforts to transform Papua into a land of peace, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has been growing both in strength and numbers in the province, as reported by the International Crisis Group in September last year.
Plagued by what the government calls a separatist movement, Papua is expected to become home to thousands of troops over the next few years. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Djoko Santoso has already revealed a plan to base the third infantry division of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) and more cavalry as well as engineering battalions in Papua to protect the country's border and conflict-prone areas.
Citing Papua's vulnerability to conflicts and separatism, more troops are needed in Papua, Golkar Party politician Yuddhy Chrisnandy said in response to the plan. He may represent the general opinion of the House of Representatives, which is known for it's ultra-nationalistic bias.
Indigenous Papuans have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the deployment of thousands of reinforcement troops to their homeland.
The latest was voiced loudly on Oct. 19, when local people in Arso (the capital of Keerom regency, some 75 kilometers northeast of the provincial capital of Jayapura) blockaded the road connecting Keerom and Jayapura to vent their anger with military troops after a soldier assaulted a district chief.
Why do Papuans reject the sending of military reinforcements to West Papua ?
Some cases below might be helpful in understanding the reasons behind Papuans' aversion to the military.
On Oct. 18, the head of Arso district, Charles Tafor, was beaten by a member of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus), who was on duty at the border with Papua New Guinea . Responding to the incident, Papuans blockaded the main road in Arso and demanded the withdrawal of all Kopassus troops posted in Keerom regency. The military eventually removed the soldier.
Several weeks earlier, a Catholic priest, Father John Djonga, left Waris District (in the same regency) following a series of intimidations and death threats allegedly from soldiers.
Djonga is a non-Papuan who has been defending and campaigning for the rights of Papuan people. The intimidation targeting him mounted after he reported to Governor Barnabas Suebu the concerns of Waris residents in the wake of the deployment of Kopassus troops to their home soil.
In the latest threat, Djonga said a man climbed over the back wall of the house where he lived. A well-built man entered the house in Abepura, just south of Jayapura, and asked a student, "Is Father Djonga here?" The intruder quickly removed himself however, when he was told the pastor of St. Mikael Church in Waris was not there.
Amnesty International immediately expressed its fears for Djonga's safety (AI, Sept. 24, 2007 ), and he was told not to return to Waris for the time being.
According to Djonga, Papuans in Waris district were interrogated harshly and indiscriminately by Kopassus troops about their knowledge of the guerrilla movement.
Facing the military, they are commonly asked several questions: What's your name? Where are you from? What crops do you grow? Why do you carry a traditional bow and arrows? You are OPM, right? Do you keep the Morning Star flag? Who is hiding guns?
It seems Papuans, who are Indonesians by citizenship, are treated as strangers in their own land by those who are supposed to protect them.
On Aug. 30, 2007 , Papuans from Waris district were able to openly share their concerns with the local military commander Col. Burhanuddin Siagian. They said should the situation in Waris not improve, they would take refuge in Papua New Guinea .
More than eight years ago, in July 1999, four Catholic bishops from Papua highlighted, in their report to then president Abdurrahman Wahid, the heavy presence of troops in Papua. The religious leaders blamed the military's arrogance as one of the causes of anxiety among the Papuans.
The bitter experiences of the Arso district head and the parish priest confirm the situation has not improved.
The arrival of thousands of troops has failed to create peace or tranquillity in Papua because the soldiers, including the Kopassus troops, serve as the central government's way of dealing with indigenous Papuans.
For the sake of peace, Papuans have called on the government and the TNI commander to pull out all Kopassus personnel from Keerom regency.
They know their request will be unheeded, as has happened since 1963, but at least they have the courage to speak up.
Neles Tebay *
* The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Theology and Philosophy in Abepura, Papua.