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Developed nations complicit in West Papua injustice.

Sharing an island with Papua New Guinea, West Papua (or Papua) contains 15 percent of the world's known languages and some of its oldest and most unique cultures. As well, some environmentalists believe West Papua contains greater ecological diversity than anywhere else on Earth.

But we may never know.

Papuans and their natural habitat are vanishing at an alarming rate. Dr. Peter King of Sydney University estimates that one-sixth of the population has been killed since Indonesia invaded in 1962. Many more have been 'disappeared' or have starved to death as a result of forced relocation. The exact number of victims is impossible to ascertain, since humanitarian organizations, journalists, and academics are constant targets of intimidation, torture, and assassination.

More than three-quarters of West Papua's tropical rainforest (the largest in that hemisphere and home to many Papuans) has been designated for logging or mining. Much of it is already destroyed. The Indonesian military directly owns and operates lucrative business ventures in the region, key sources of revenue for their operating budget. The military also holds long-term contracts to protect multinationals operating in Papua. A prime example is the military's contract with Freeport McMoran, a Louisiana-based company that has been mining the largest gold deposit in the world since just after Indonesia invaded. Freeport itself reported that it paid 'security fees' to the Indonesian military of $5.6 million in 2002.

Australian sources report that 25,000 additional Indonesian troops have arrived in West Papua since 2000. Raids on villages are increasing, along with more gruesome reports of torture, rape, and summary executions en masse. Health clinics, churches, schools, gardens and entire villages have been set ablaze, according to an extraordinary press statement issued last August by the Council of Churches in Papua.

Papuans have endured this smoldering injustice for more than 40 years. For much of that time, the iniquity was fuelled by Cold War politics and outright complicity from so-called "developed nations". While backroom conspiracies have always been suspected, details could not be confirmed until last July when previously classified U.S. documents were released by the National Security Archive in Washington which stated, "The documents detail United States support for Indonesia's heavy-handed takeover of West Papua despite overwhelming Papuan opposition and United Nations' requirements for genuine self-determination."

Indonesia gained its present authority over the region through a controversial United Nations "Act of Free Choice" in 1969. Anyone campaigning for independence was labeled a subversive, and Papuan communities opposing integration were bombed (with equipment supplied by Western nations). Paving the way for this travesty, the U.S. facilitated Indonesia's de facto control of the region by sponsoring the New York Agreements, which left the choice of how to carry out the 1969 referendum "entirely to GOI (Government of Indonesia)".

As a result, 1,000 locals were forced to vote openly in front of armed soldiers, and told they would be shot as traitors unless the vote supported Indonesia. The result was unanimously in favour of integration, even though the U.S. embassy in Jakarta admitted, as the recently-released documents reveal, that "... probably a decided majority of the [Papuan] people, and possibly 85 to 90 percent, are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause or at least indislike Indonesians."

The documents also include U.S. dignitary correspondence on how to prevent debate at the U.N. by lobbying cynics and tabling the issue as "an internal affair". U.N. records have shown that Canada took a similar position until the mid-1990s, consistently tabling motions to remove Indonesia's aggression from U.N. agendas. Propaganda since then has reinforced the myth that West Papua is an Indonesian province striving to break away. The truth is that Indonesia illegally invaded, and continues to occupy and plunder a foreign country, with no historical connection or claim to its land or people.

These documents help to explain why the world has continued to look the other way while one of the longest untenable military occupations of a formerly independent nation not only continues, but escalates. This is the stone regime that committed atrocities with impunity in East Timor (occupied by Indonesia from 1974 to 1999)--a military force unaccountable even to its own government.

The released documents are even more pertinent now that the Bush administration appears to be moving toward resumption of military aid to Indonesia in the name of fighting terrorism. Since 9/11, Indonesia has been trying to recoup military support from the U.S. by labelling Papuan freedom fighters as terrorists. This is ironic, since the Papuan resistance movement has reportedly never killed nor had a policy of attacking civilians. In the past, this aid focused on counter-insurgency techniques and equipment. In other words, it would likely be used to suppress attempts by "provinces" like Papua to regain their sovereignty. Fortunately, a small handful of activists are lobbying the U.S. to link aid to systemic changes in Indonesia's approach to human rights.

In the meantime, Papuans continue their struggle for self-determination against overwhelming odds--odds exacerbated by global indifference and the spotlight on apparently more important events elsewhere. All that most Papuans ask is for a legitimate referendum on self-determination, conducted in a reasonable way under the supervision of UN observers rather than Indonesian soldiers. They desperately need our diplomatic support to lend off the increasing might of a determined invader, and, ultimately, to ever see justice.

Tom Benedetti is with WestPAN (West Papua Action Network), Canada ( WestPAN is a network of Papuans and Canadians attempting to end the injustice in West Papua and the associated destruction of unique cultures and rare ecosystems.
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Author:Bennedetti, Tom
Publication:Tok Blong Pacifik
Geographic Code:0PACR
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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