New Internationalist

Hearts of Darkness

Issue 380

Massive military build-up coincides with Halliburton’s arrival in West Papua

Eben Kirksey
Penning them in: There is now 1 Indonesian soldier for every 24 civilians in West Papua. Eben Kirksey

The Indonesian military recently unveiled plans to increase their presence in West Papua – its mineral-rich eastern province – by up to 15,000 new troops. This will bring the total number of Indonesian military personnel in the territory to 50,000 – approximately 1 soldier for every 24 Papuan civilians.

Days before the troop increase was announced, 37 members of the US Congressional Black Caucus joined progressive international leaders to challenge Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua. These Congress members signed a letter urging UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ‘to support West Papua’s right to self-determination’. To date similar requests have been made of Annan by 174 parliamentarians from around the world, church leaders (such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu), and over 80 international non-governmental organizations.

As West Papua’s independence movement gains international recognition, the Indonesian security forces are stepping up a domestic campaign of violence. Members of Indonesia’s Parliament support the new troop deployments, hoping that more military personnel will prevent freedom fighters from gaining ground. Simply associating with independence activists in West Papua can now mean the kiss of death. According to unpublished church reports, the police and military recently executed scores of alleged separatists and burned down villages of sympathizers in the highland district of Puncak Jaya. Thousands of people have fled their homes for the forest. The Puncak Jaya operation started in August 2004 and new incidents are reported by church groups nearly every week. In March 2005 a series of extra-judicial executions took place in the neighbouring district of Mimika.

While progressive politicians are becoming aware of the grim reality of Indonesia’s military occupation in West Papua, the major power brokers are profiting from the status quo. Transnationals that thrive in conflict zones are moving in where others fear to tread. Kellogg, Brown & Root – a Halliburton subsidiary – was recently awarded a $1.8 billion engineering, procurement and construction contract for the British Petroleum natural gas project in West Papua.

At first, punishing Papuan villagers for the successes of international campaigners seems a poor strategy. The international outrage in 1999 – when Indonesian soldiers and militias rampaged through East Timor after its historic vote for independence – resulted in a UN mission to liberate the occupied territory. Indonesian authorities are hiding their campaign of violence in West Papua by restricting the access of journalists, human rights workers, and even tourists. Major news networks are not covering the recent abuses even as graphic pictures of mutilated corpses and detailed Indonesian-language reports circulate the globe among activists.

In addition, Australia has recently publicly supported Indonesia’s territorial integrity: diplomatic short-hand for their lack of support for independence movements in Aceh and West Papua. Until progressive forces gain stronger footholds in key countries – the US, Britain, and Australia – the people of West Papua are stuck with their current deadly overlords.

Eben Kirksey ( eben.kirksey@wolfson.ox.ac.uk )

STOP PRESS: Two pro-independence activists – Philep Karma and Yusac Pakage – have been sentenced to 15 and 10 years respectively after being found guilty of treason just for flying the outlawed West Papua flag on Independence Day last December.

ACTION: Write an email to Dr Hamid Awaludin, Indonesian Minister for Justice and Human Rights ( rohumas@depkehham.go.id ) appealing for their immediate and unconditional release.

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