Thursday, February 20, 2003

PAPUA: A Conflict-in-waiting

Date: Friday 21 February 2003
Subj: Papua: A Conflict-in-waiting.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator

On 19 February 2003, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) published an article by John Martinkus, entitled, "Islamic extremism gains a foothold in Christian Papua." This article confirms widely held suspicions that while the Laskar Jihad did disband in Maluku, it did not disband in Papua. In fact the SCMP article paints a picture of escalating levels of co-operation between the Indonesian military, Korpussas and the Laskar Jihad.

Commenting on the co-operation between the Indonesian military and the Laskar Jihad, Johannes Bonay, the head of ELSHAM - a group that monitors human rights abuses in Papua says, "The rhetoric of the Laskar Jihad groups fits comfortably with the aims of the Indonesian military in Papua. One of their objectives is to protect the unity of Indonesia in Papua. They are using Islam to claim they are fighting against the Kaffir here in Papua." (Over 90% of the indigenous population of Papua is officially Christian - mostly Protestant. Operation World 21st Century Edition.)

The Indonesian military is using the issue of separatism (which in Eastern Indonesia is very non-threatening) as their reason for pursuing increased powers. In Papua, both the military and the Islamists are motivated by their humiliation and anger over the loss of East Timor. Clearly, predominantly Christian Papua is a conflict-in-waiting.

Also in this posting - The Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has signed a controversial presidential decree to expedite the dividing of Papua into three provinces, weakening its autonomy and opening the door for the isolation of the Christian majority in one eastern province, enabling the other provinces, and eventually the entire region, to be gradually Islamised.



'The following paragraphs are excerpts from the SCMP article:
Islamic extremism gains a foothold in Christian Papua,
by John Martinkus, 19 February 2003, South China Morning Post (SCMP)

'The mainly Christian Papua province-PNG border area has become home to Islamic fighters of Muslim extremist group Laskar Jihad, Papuan militia groups trained by Indonesia's Kopassus special forces, and Free Papuan Movement (OPM) guerillas.

'What has emerged (from police investigations) is that the northern area of the Papua-PNG border is now a training area for Islamic militants backed by the Indonesian military.

'"Laskar Jihad is now in several forms," says Thom Beanal, head of the pro-Independence Papuan Presidium Council. "They can be militia or a kind of military supporting group, with some local Papuans recruited by the military," he said. "Laskar Jihad is consolidating itself here. When they said they disbanded in the Malukus after the Bali bombing, it does not mean that they have stopped their activities here."

'The Islamic militants of Laskar Jihad have been arriving in Papua from the conflict in Ambon for the past two years. The setting up of an office in the town of Sorong last year was a front for their activities in that area which locals say included the establishment of 12 training camps that were in remote areas and guarded by members of Kopassus. According to presidium member Willy Mandowen, the office in Sorong was visited by members of Jemaah Islamiah before the bombing in Bali last October.

'Now they are operating in the border area with Papua New Guinea. "They have weapons from the Indonesian military. They are trained in these camps by Kopassus," says Lawrence Mehui, who has carried out an investigation of these groups for the presidium.

'In the transmigrant settlements near the town of Arso, close to the border, the Javanese members of Laskar Jihad have been recruiting and training transmigrants and local Papuans in conjunction with members of Kopassus. "We have information from when Kopassus had a meeting with the local people in Arso in November. The local people come and tell us that there is a direct connection with the Kopassus members and the Islamic groups," says Lawrence Muhui.

'ELSHAM says the groups of Laskar Jihad and locally recruited militia on the border are being formed into operational support groups for military operations trained by Kopassus. "If we analyse the reports made by the people and the investigations made by the police we can ascertain that Kopassus is behind this," Mr Mehui said. "The rhetoric of the Laskar Jihad groups fits comfortably with the aims of the Indonesian military in Papua. One of their objectives is to protect the unity of Indonesia in Papua. They are using Islam to claim they are fighting against the Kaffir here in Papua," says Mr Bonay.'



Reverend John Barr is the Executive Secretary for Unity and International Mission for the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly. In his June 2002 report "The Future Could be Genocide", Reverend John Barr alluded to the issue of dividing Papua. 

"Population distribution throughout Papua is not even with at least three of Papua's major centers now demonstrating a Muslim majority (Sorong, Timika, Merauke). Informants indicate the TNI (Indonesian army) are now proposing the possibility of establishing a number of new military districts based on Sorong, Timika, Merauke and Jayapura. A long established practice in Indonesia where military and civilian government structures mirror each other would see the creation of a majority of districts/new provinces in Papua that are dominated by Muslim migrants. Papuans see this as a sinister strategy designed to isolate indigenous Christian majorities in the eastern section of Papua while most of Papua would then come under the control of newcomers. Many Papuans see this as another strategy aimed at the eventual Islamisation of Papua." 

In early February 2003, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a presidential decree (Law No. 1/2003) that called for the implementation of a 1999 law to divide Papua into three provinces - Papua, West Irian Jaya and Central Irian Jaya. It had been widely believed that the 1999 law (Law No. 45/1999) had been rendered void by the 2001 special autonomy law (Law No. 21/2001).

Papuan religious leaders from the Catholic, Protestant and Islamic congregations have issued a joint statement opposing the plan. Church and human rights groups, as well as Papuan political and community groups see this move as a direct violation of the special autonomy law of 2001 and as a strategy to dilute autonomy and increase military control. (SCMP "Papuans say a plan to split their province is aimed at diluting autonomy" by Marianne Kearney in Jakarta, 8 February 2003)

It is interesting to note that demonstrators in the largely Indonesian Muslim western regions of Manokweri, Fak Fak and Sarong are in favour of the division of Papua, saying it would be good for development.

According to the Jakarta Post, 21 February 2003, Bram Atururi, a political leader in Manokweri, has already been appointed acting governor of the unilaterally declared West Papua province. Aturuni has suggested that those opposing the division of Papua should be labelled separatists.


The Indonesian military is presently facing a huge challenge - not from separatists (as claimed), but from popular pressure to get out of politics, and return to the barracks and let the police look after internal security. The military's political role is scheduled to end by 2004 and in 2000 a decree was issued that limited the military's role to defence (under Suharto is was security and defence). This explains much of the impetus behind the troubles in Eastern Indonesia - the military wants its former powers reinstated it and is even willing to incite conflict in order to justify its existence on the security front.

Generals Hartono and Wiranto have expressed concerns about "serious problems of separatism" in Papua and they are using this as their excuse to pursue increased powers for the military. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu has also said that the military's security role should be reinstated due to the threats of separatism and other security disturbances.

Military analyst Ikrar Nusabakti of the National Institute of Science (LIPI) criticized the Army's view on its security roles, saying that the officers were likely frustrated after they once had omnipotent influence, both in politics and security, which is now being pared down before their eyes. (Jakarta Post "Army wants power again" by Tiarma Siboro, 21 Feb 2003)

Maluku has suffered, Central Sulawesi has suffered - can we prevent Papua being next?

- Elizabeth Kendal