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Ex-militiaman defers Papua plan for nationalist group

Jakarta Post - December 10, 2003

Nethy Darma Somba, Timika – A group of former East Timorese militiamen postponed a plan on Tuesday to open a branch office of their pro-integration Red-and-White Defenders Front (FPMP) in Papua province, following strong objections from the local people.

Munawir Yacub, who was elected secretary of the organization's branch in Mimika regency, said that he, however, would continue to promote its objectives in the province. He expected that within two or three years, the local people would accept the FPMP's presence in the territory.

"I think it will be useless for us to continue with the plan [to establish a branch office] if it only leads to conflicts among local communities," Munawir told The Jakarta Post.

Former East Timorese militia leader and head of FPMP Eurico Gutteres plans to fly to Papua on Tuesday to lead an inauguration ceremony for new FPMP members.

Munawir said Gutteres was also slated to meet provincial leaders during his visit and to hold a presentation on the FPMP's vision and mission, which was "no different from those of other youth organizations in the country".

Even though the local administration has yet to reveal its stance on the issue, Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo said earlier that security officers would not allow the establishment of the organization there if "its presence is to cause disturbances".

A similar militia group called the Red-and-White Task Force, believed to have the backing of the Indonesian Military (TNI), was established in Papua late 2001.

The Task Force recruited members from migrant communities, raising concerns that it could spark conflicts with native Papuans.

Migrants, who tends to have a higher standard of living than Papuans, once expressed fears that they would some day be expelled from the territory if separatist groups won support for their pro-independence movement.

Separatist groups have long been campaigning for an independent Papua, a resource-rich province, but whose people see little of the profits gleaned from the region's natural resources. Rampant human rights abuses by security forces have also helped to fuel separatist sentiments.

Separatist group Free Papua Movement (OPM) has been waging a small armed struggle following its self-declared independence of the state of Papua on December 1, 1963.

Tom Beanal, chairman of the Papua Presidium Council (PDP) and head of the Amungme tribe, said people in the territory did not need such task forces to prevent conflicts, saying that "we are all okay here".

One of the Papuan leaders with whom Gutteres wished to meet, Beanal said he did not want to waste his time meeting the East Timorese man, as "he has a reputation as human rights violator in Timor Leste [East Timor]".

"That man once committed gross human rights abuses in Timor Leste when the people there were fighting for independence in 1999. He misses the land [East Timor], and why should he come here now and establish such a front?

"Will he again commit a similar violence in a movement to maintain integrity of the country? The FPMP has different goals from the Papuan people, as most of us wish for independence," said Beanal.

Gutteres once supported pro-integration militias in East Timor. Many believed that the military was behind his activities to spread terror among the East Timorese before, during and after the 1999 UN-sponsored referendum for self-determination.

Gutteres was convicted by an ad hoc human rights court in Jakarta for his involvement in the 1999 mayhem. The court sentenced him to 10 years in prison in November 2002, but he remains free pending his appeal.