Thousands of people have deserted their homes and are living in fear in jungle in the Central Highlands of West Papua as Indonesian soldiers search for those responsible for an attack on the police and army headquarters on Indonesian Independence Day (17 August).
A church official in the Paniai district told New Matilda they don’t know when the population will return. They are afraid of the heavily armed troops who are present in the town, and don’t want to become casualties.
The police have also been intimidating the local population. A local source told New Matilda that one of the police commanders in Paniai had sent an SMS to the district administrator calling for two residents to be "captured, tortured and killed or buried alive" for allegedly being members of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM).
Hundreds of Indonesian army and police officers have reportedly been deployed by air and land in the Paniai district since August 16, when John Magay Yogi, a 23-year-old field Commander of the National Liberation Army of Free Papua Organisation (TPN/OPM) Region IV, and his group ambushed police headquarters in Komopa, sub-district of Agadide, and seized two rifles. This incident was followed by a shootout, which started on August 17 at 1.55am around two villages close to the Paniai capital of Madi.
Yogi’s rebel group later attacked the police and army headquarters. The attack was motivated by revenge against the Indonesian security apparatus that has badly treated him and his family.
"I was imprisoned on April 9 in Nabire although the police could not produce any evidence," Yogi told New Matilda in a phone interview. "They accused me of defying the legitimacy of Indonesian authority in West Papua. I escaped. On another occasion the police confiscated my weapons and money when I attended a religious annual congress in Madi this year."
Yogi comes from a family that has a history of opposition to the Indonesian Government. His father, Tadius Yogi, was in charge of Territorial War Commands (KODAP) IV in Nabire and Paniai before being replaced by his sons.
Human rights violations in West Papua have bred resistance fighters. Like Yogi, 30-year-old Amatus Douw, the coordinator of International Forum for West Papua and one of the 43 West Papuan refugees who sought political asylum in Australia in 2006, told New Matilda about similar mistreatment he and his family have received from Indonesian army officers in the past.
"My father was a head of OPM in my town and became a target of the Indonesian military and police. In 1998, he was captured and tortured. He died two years later. In 1995 they kidnapped and tortured my mother when she did not reveal my father’s whereabouts, she died a year later," said Douw. His family’s ordeal is the primary drive for his political activism that started when he was in high school. It continued at Papua University in Manokwari. He was later targeted by the Indonesian military and police.
Human rights violations have significantly increased in West Papua, particularly in Puncak district, a rebel stronghold area where attacks are often launched against the Indonesian army. It is also known as the poorest region in Indonesia. According to Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission, since 2004 the military operations in the area have intensified. Cases of stigmatisation, torture and murder are common.
According to KontraS, a Jakarta-based human rights organisation, in 2010 alone there were eleven cases of torture, and three of these cases are now internationally known, after mobile phone footage of the torture was posted on YouTube.
One of these incidents involved Anggenpugu Kiwo and Telanggar Gire, civilians who were caught in a road on the way to Mulia, a district capital in Puncak Jaya, by Indonesian soldiers. They were suspected to be members of the OPM.
The Indonesian soldiers of battalion 7/Arvita PAM Rawan Puncak Jaya interrogated them. In the process they asked Kiwo to take off his clothes, tied his feet and hands and laid him on the ground. The soldiers put their feet on his mouth and chest, twice burned his genitals with charcoal and threatened to suffocate him with a plastic bag and behead him if he did not tell them where the OPM weapons were.
Such abuses happen often to West Papuans who do not cooperate with Indonesian soldiers. They generate a deep distrust towards the Indonesian army and government, and strengthen the desire for independence.
The population has also rejected a military public relations exercise as a way to win their hearts and minds.
In May this year the provincial command, Kodam XVII/Cendrawasih, began a four month program of community services that included activities such as building roads and bridges, repairing landslide-affected areas, rehabilitating housing, renovating schools and churches, providing health services, initiating reforestation, and developing farming and fishing activities in the area. The population strongly rejected the program and military presence in the area.
Since his arrival in Australia, Amatus Douw has campaigned for justice in West Papua. Earlier this year he wrote a letter to the Australian Government, calling on them to support West Papuans through international diplomacy. In the latest correspondence in April 2011, the Gillard government, via her Indonesia Political and Strategic Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, acknowledged that human rights violations have occurred in West Papua. However, the letter stated, "the Indonesian Government takes firm actions against separatist activity", and the Australian Government "respects Indonesian territorial integrity including in West Papua".
Douw does not accept the Australian Government’s argument, as the integration of West Papua into Indonesia in 1963 was not legitimate. He expresses his fears about the region’s future: "Learning from East Timor, I am scared that a massacre will occur as the International community mount more pressure to the Indonesian government and military".