APSN Banner

West Papua militia

SBS Dateline - March 16, 2005

These days, most Australians are well and truly aware of the suffering that the people of East Timor went through before they finally gained their independence from Indonesia back in 1999. Much of the repression and violence in that conflict, of course, was attributed to militia groups formed and backed by the Indonesian military. Now, it seems that history might be repeating itself in the Indonesian province of West Papua – or Irian Jaya – where the locals are also after independence from Jakarta.

Of late, there have been serious claims that Indonesian army-backed militias and Islamic extremists are working in tandem, provoking some damning allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The report you are about to see has been put together here at Dateline, by Nick Lazaredes, from footage smuggled out of West Papua by human rights investigators. We should warn you, though, that you could find some of the pictures disturbing.

Reporter: Nick Lazaredes

In late January, human rights investigators on a secret mission to West Papua's Central Highlands stumbled into a scene of misery and death. This 11-month-old girl had just died from malnutrition and exposure – a victim of West Papua's hidden and largely unreported war. Questioning these frightened refugees, investigators discovered that thousands more like them were living rough in the jungle.

Man (Translation): They are at the foot of the mountains. They still haven't gone home they are dying of disease. There's no medicine. It's difficult to get treatment.

This part of West Papua is under Indonesian military control. It's their base for active operations against rebels from the OPM – known as the Free Papua Movement. But their military campaign against the rebels has caused thousands of refugees to flee after their villages were ransacked and houses burned.

Wasior human rights victim – Man (Translation): So many of us have become victims. So we want independence now. We can't stand it anymore, living under Indonesia.

These photos, also collected by human rights investigators, show the aftermath of an attack on the remote highland village of Wunin just three weeks ago – elderly villagers murdered and schools and churches burnt to the ground. In the past six months, investigators have documented scores of deaths and acts of violence attributed to the Indonesian military.

Sources in West Papua say that as a result, throughout the entire province, between 15,000 and 20,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman, West Papuan Baptist minister (Translation): In Puncak Jaya, there are about 6000 people, over 6300 people in the jungle because their homes were burnt down by Indonesian soldiers. The Indonesian soldiers shot their pigs and sold them to restaurants for money.

West Papuan Baptist minister Sofyan Yoman is visiting Australia to raise awareness about the bloodshed in his homeland. Today this small Baptist congregation in Sydney is getting a frightening picture, and according to Reverend Yoman, that includes genocide.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman: Indonesian Government always attack, arrest and kill West Papuan people and imprison them, torture them and continue systematic killing. I think it's a national program, Indonesian national program, a genocide of indigenous people or local people.

Members of Sofyan Yoman's Baptist congregation throughout West Papua have filed constant reports of human rights abuses, arson and unlawful killings by the Indonesian military. He's also uncovered widespread corruption.

A report he's prepared for the Baptist church reveals that the Indonesian military has siphoned off special autonomy funding set up for West Papua, some of which originates from international donors.

He claims that funds meant for humanitarian purposes have been diverted and used by the military in its campaign of violence and ethnic cleansing in the Highlands.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman (Translation): The special autonomy funds are being used for military operations. According to the information I have obtained in the field, the total amount is two and a half billion rupiah.

Reverend Yoman believes that key international aid donors to Indonesia, like Australia, should pressure Jakarta to investigate his corruption claims. He also says that human rights officials should be allowed to visit areas where recent military atrocities have occurred.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman (Translation): The Regional Government Secretary has announced that there's about 19 billion in funds that has been used to pay for medicine and also for food, but the fact is people are starving and dying in the jungle. Where is the money going?

Dateline has obtained video-tape testimony from West Papua which paints an even darker picture about what the Indonesian military might be doing with the funds allegedly siphoned off from the autonomy fund. Like East Timor, it appears that the Indonesian military, or TNI, is funding and training militia groups.

Militia Informant (Translation): I can tell you here and now that in Manokwari the military are establishing and organising militias. which are known as Satgas Merah Putih. They have established two bases in Manokwari, in transmigrant areas where there many Muslims.

According to this man, who has given evidence to human rights groups and says he has been targeted for assassination as a result, the militia are being armed in preparation for an attack.

Militia Informant (Translation): Large numbers of bullets in boxes are being stored in workshops in food stalls and by the road. What is the motive or reason for this? So I am convinced that the military is organising militias in these two places and at some stage these militias will become a force used to attack the community as happened in East Timor. This is very worrying to me.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman also believes that the militia is being readied for an attack on Christian West Papuans.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman (Translation): It's not just possible, it's probable.

Every day six boatloads of Muslims arrive in Papua. Every day six white boats, which were purchased with special autonomy funds, bring Indonesian Muslims to Papua, bring Indonesian soldiers to Papua.

As well as the six white ships referred to by Reverend Yoman, regular passenger ferries like this bring large numbers of Muslim settlers to West Papua. Sofyan Yoman says there's an organised policy to resettle large numbers of Muslim immigrants in the territory to dilute its Christian majority. Worse still, Islamic extremists are now targeting the province.

Laskar Jihad Infiltrator (Translation): They spread rumours in particular locations to frighten people. And the third thing – they spread rumours concerning religious matters so as to create religious conflict.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, this human rights activist told Dateline the story of how he infiltrated the West Papuan ranks of the extremist group Laskar Jihad.

Laskar Jihad Infiltrator (Translation): The sort of activities Laskar Jihad were involved in, in Sorong, were firstly, intimidating and killing Papuans who were involved in the Papua Independence Movement, and secondly, spreading rumours in various places, to create fear.

Laskar Jihad has a violent past. In July 2000, Laskar Jihad fighters attacked Christians on the island of Ambon. After the Bali bombing the Indonesian Government claimed Laskar Jihad had been disbanded, but according to this human rights infiltrator, West Papua already has up to 500 dedicated followers in several training camps. As part of his induction into the Laskar Jihad group in the West Papuan city of Sorong, he was schooled at the local mosque in the group's objectives and methods.

Laskar Jihad Infiltrator (Translation): The truth of Islam had to be made concrete so we had to wage jihad against those who wanted to destroy the Islamist community, both its people and its places of worship. We were taught how to monitor the strength of the religious groups. In particular in Sorong, we monitored places of worship. I don't just mean Christian places of worship but also those of other religions. We were also told to determine the number of neighbourhoods in Sorong where the majority of inhabitants were Christian.

Even more disturbing – the Laskar Jihad infiltrator told Dateline that his religious teachers would openly discuss their allegiance to al-Qa'ida at the Sorong Mosque. Although we have no way to verify his claims, he says al-Qa'ida received regular reports of the group's activities in West Papua.

Laskar Jihad Infiltrator (Translation): Ultimately their umbrella organisation was the al-Qa'ida network. Because Haji Hassan... I mean Haji Ahmad once said in the Mujaheddin mosque, our network, the Laskar Jihad in Sorong all its activities would be reported to al-Qa'ida.

If Indonesia's security forces needed a trigger to crack down further in West Papua, they were handed one in February. Rallying in the streets of Manikwaru, West Papuan political and tribal leaders demanded an end to the ethnic cleansing and called for United Nations intervention. In an 11-point declaration, they gave Jakarta six months to negotiate a new deal for the province.

Crowd (Translation): Today we demand Papuan Independence, Independence full stop.

With so little international attention directed at their plight, a speedy political solution seems unlikely. The US appears unconcerned about the Indonesian military operations in West Papua and their arming of a civilian militia. Just weeks ago, they reinstated their military training links with Indonesia. According to Reverend Yoman, it's a troubling development, because the sinister hand of the Indonesian army seems to be once again preparing for a bloody religious confrontation.

Reverend Sofyan Yoman (Translation): Wherever there are Indonesian soldiers, the militia and the jihadists are there too. They are inseparable. They are very close.

And the Australian Government is also being criticised for appearing to turn a blind eye to its northern neighbour.

Militia Informant (Translation): Why did the Australians save one Melanesian people, the East Timorese but they have done nothing to save us. We very much hope for help, especially, as I said before, because of the weapons being brought in and the militias being formed. It's all a time bomb.

At some time we Papuans are going to start killing each other, because they are preparing Papuans to confront Papuans.

George Negus: Tomorrow in Canberra, top level ministerial talks begin between the Australian and Indonesian governments. What chance of those allegations being raised? Not high I would have thought. Earlier today, Dateline contacted the Indonesian Embassy and a spokesman told us that, on the face of it, they regarded the allegations in our story as not new.

But, if there was something new, his government would take it seriously and it would be fully investigated. In the meantime, we have made requests for interviews with the appropriate senior Indonesian ministers and hope to speak with them during the next few weeks.