Resource exploitation continues as tension mounts

Down to Earth No. 47, November 2000

Indonesian and foreign companies continue to profit from West Papua's resources as the military resumes its tough line with the independence movement.

Signs of a new get-tough policy in West Papua were confirmed when an estimated 3,700 additional troops were dispatched to the territory in early August. These included 1,700 troops from the mobile brigade police force, notorious for its brutal suppression of dissent. Most troops have been sent to Jayapura, Merauke and Timika regions. In Timika the objective is to guard the Freeport/Rio Tinto gold mine at Grasberg.

Back in Jakarta, the August session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), Indonesia's highest legislative body, failed to secure the promised withdrawal of the military from politics, instead allowing members of the armed forces (TNI) to retain MPR seats until 2009. According to Tapol, the Indonesia human rights campaign, hardliners within the TNI are "in the ascendant", heralding a reversal of the softly-softly approach favoured by President Gus Dur. This approach has included allowing the West Papuan flag to be flown (under certain conditions), tolerating pro-independence gatherings, including the second Papuan Congress in May-June; and, for the most part, favouring dialogue over violence.


Troops fire on flag-raisers

The change has been all too apparent. In late July, two people were shot dead by police in Sorong, at the western tip of the territory, during a raid against flag-raisers. In late August, there was another crackdown in Sorong: police opened fire without warning when a group of people from a neighbouring island refused to pull down a flag they had hoisted. Three men were shot dead and a further twelve were taken to hospital.

In early October, attempts by TNI forces to remove Papuan flags ended in a mass riot and more than 30 dead. Troops opened fire on crowds in Wamena, the main town of the central highlands, and two Papuans were shot dead. Around 28 were injured, including members of the security forces. Local people then took to the streets to protest against the killings and in the ensuing violence at least 30 people were killed. Most of them are believed to have been migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia killed by local people. British-made Hawk jets flew over the area in a display of military muscle. These planes were later withdrawn as a result of NGO pressure in the UK and were replaced by US-made Skyhawks. Around 200 people, including women and children were arrested. Most were released soon afterwards, some reporting that they had seen other detainees tortured by police.

A police deadline to lower all Papuan flags by October 19th led to fears that much more violence would erupt across West Papua. At the last minute the deadline was postponed, pending a meeting between the pro-independence West Papua Presidium Council leaders and President Wahid. Council chair, Theys Eluay, is under police investigation, along with five others in connection with organising the May-June Congress.

(Source: Tapol Bulletin 158 & 159; Amnesty International Press Release 10/Oct/00; AFP 28/Jul/00 and 19/Oct/00; Indonesian Observer27/Jun/00. Tapol 2/Oct/00; ELSHAM 7/Oct/00. See also DTE 44 & DTE 45 for more background on independence movement.)


Indonesian 'development' and foreign investment

Indonesia's colonial-style appropriation of West Papua's natural riches is a key cause of resentment in the territory which is fuelling the independence movement. Jakarta-based logging, plantation and fishing companies, military entrepreneurs and foreign multinationals have profited from cheap land, tax incentives and non-existent environmental controls. While some investors are concerned about the gathering momentum for independence, others say their investment plans are not affected. (see DTE 44).

The West Papuan Presidium Council actively welcomes foreign investors, at the same time demanding respect for people's rights and the environment.

In June, Theys Eluay indicated that foreign companies should no longer deal with Jakarta, but should work directly with the people of West Papua, through the Presidium Council. "Why should Jakarta sign the contracts? Do Jakartans own the land? Jakarta only wants to grab the fortune of the Papuans," he said. Eluay also wants the Indonesian government to "stop meddling" in the Freeport mine. (See also separate item on Freeport.)
(Reuters 22/Jun/00)

A resolution passed by the Second Papuan Congress in June 2000 focuses on reclaiming the territory's status as a sovereign state, first declared in December 1, 1961. It rejects as invalid the 1962 New York Agreement and the 1969 Act of Free Choice, which sealed West Papua's fate as part of Indonesia. On foreign investment, the resolution appeals to Papuans to:

support investment activities, as long as the investors respect the rights of the traditional owners and sustain the environment and appreciate the culture of the Papuan community.


Road for logs

One project that seems designed to fly in the face of such respect is the 'road for logs' deal agreed recently with a group of four South Korean companies. A memorandum of understanding signed in August says the companies will build a 11,280km 'trans-Irian' road linking Jayapura/Port Numbay with Nabire and Sorong. In exchange the investors are entitled to log five kilometres either side of the road and gain a forestry and plantation concession. The deal was signed in Jakarta, reflecting the fact that control over resources is still highly centralised. According to Frans Robert Kristianus, chair of the provincial development planning board (Bappeda), construction work is due to start in January next year and project completion is expected within ten years. Marthen Manrey, member of the provincial assembly, which raised no objection to the deal, was nevertheless shocked to find that the MoU was signed before the relative value of logs to construction work had been worked out. Apparently there has been no thought spared, either, for the land-owners whose forest resources will be destroyed by the deal.

Another Korean company, Kodeco, has been active in the forests of South Kalimantan and West Papua for some years and its community relations record is not good. In July local people from upper Yapen Waropen district issued an ultimatum to the logging company: pay compensation by July 29, or leave. The company had earlier agreed to pay compensation for timber by mid-July after local people protested to the local authorities, then said it needed to gather accurate data first. "If..Kodeco fails to pay the compensation, the local people will force the company to stop its operations" warned local leader Marthen Tanawani. 
(Gatra Magazine 19/Aug/00; Indonesian Observer 25/Jul/00)