APSN Banner

Danger of violent instability in West Papua

Tapol press release - December 4, 2003

The appointment of Indonesia's former East Timor police chief, Timbul Silaen, as the new police chief of West Papua and the involvement of notorious East Timor militia leader, Eurico Guterres, in a new West Papua militia group renew fears of increased instability and violence in the territory and are a triumph for impunity over justice, says Tapol the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign.

Silaen's appointment was announced on 1 December. At a press conference the following day, outgoing police chief, Budi Utomo, revealed that Guterres had written to him requesting official permission to set up a militia group known as FPMP (Front Pembela Merah Putih - Red and White Defenders Front) in the mining town of Timika. According to reports, Utomo has not yet decided whether to give permission for the group and is awaiting the outcome of an investigation into its background and objectives. The fear is that even if Utomo does not issue a permit, Silaen, who was associated with Guterres in East Timor, will do so. There are indications that Guterres has already recruited around 200 men for the group.

This is an extremely dangerous development for West Papua. Recent violent incidents there and the threat of a military crackdown suggest that the Indonesian military is involved in a systematic attempt to destabilise the territory and create conflict. As with East Timor, it is likely that militia groups, such as that proposed by Guterres, will play a deadly role in this destabilisation strategy.

The situation in West Papua is already extremely tense following provocative attempts by the central government to "divide and rule" the people by splitting the territory into three provinces. "It beggars belief that persons convicted or strongly suspected of involvement in gross rights violations can re-surface in an area of conflict which has suffered from widespread human rights violations over many years.

This demonstrates Indonesia's contempt for justice and its unwillingness to ensure that atrocities are not repeated," said Paul Barber, a spokesperson for Tapol. Both Silaen and Guterres have been implicated in serious crimes committed at the time of East Timor's 1999 vote for independence when systematic and gross violations of human rights were perpetrated against the country's civilian population by the Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies.

Guterres, leader of the Aitarak militia group, was convicted of crimes against humanity by Jakarta's ad hoc human rights court on East Timor in November last year. He was given a minimal sentence of ten years imprisonment, but is free pending an appeal, which could take many years.

Silaen, East Timor's police chief in 1999, was acquitted by the court – which has been widely criticised as being deeply flawed and failing to provide justice for the victims of violence in East Timor – but along with Guterres has been indicted on crimes against humanity charges by East Timor's Special Panel for Serious Crimes.

Tapol is calling for Silaen's appointment as Papua police chief to be rescinded, for him to be removed from active duty and transferred to East Timor to face trial. It is further calling for Guterres's militia activities to be stopped forthwith and for him to begin serving his sentence of imprisonment pending his appeal and transfer to East Timor to face trial.

Tapol and other members of the international solidarity movement for West Papua have previously warned that the failure of Indonesia's ad hoc trial process would undermine efforts to end impunity and result in increased violence and oppression in areas such as West Papua and Aceh.