Reports are emerging this week that the helicopters from which 17 West Papuans were recently shot are those of an Australian-owned mining company, Paniai Gold. Further, this ongoing Indonesian offensive involves counter-terrorism unit Detachment 88, which has been trained by Australia.
This Indonesian joint military-police offensive reportedly also burned down the villages of Toko, Badawo, Dogouto, Obayoweta, Dey, and Wamanik, with 20,000 people now displaced. Images reported in Australian and international media show more troops being deployed to West Papua.
Act for Peace is calling on the Australian Government to urgently request that the Indonesian authorities cease any attacks impacting civilians, and that Indonesia and Paniai Gold account for their alleged actions relating to the civilian deaths and forced displacement.
Media is strictly controlled in the region, making the need to pursue a full account more important. The large-scale offensive is in retaliation to the killing of two Indonesian police by Papuan guerrillas in Paniai.
Prior to this operation, in October six unarmed protesters were reportedly killed and many more injured at the Third Papuan People's Congress.
Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, is also concerned at the targeting of church leaders and communities and the occupation of church buildings, in particular the Kingmi Theological College in Paniai, harassment of Kingmi Church of Papua Moderator the Rev. Benny Giay, and the attack on staff, students and destruction of property at the Catholic Church's Fajar Timur Theological College in Abepura by the Indonesian police and military on October 19.
We also call on the international community to ensure the Indonesian authorities allow church and Congress leaders in West Papua freedom of expression of their views and rights without fear of persecution.
Act for Peace has supported programs in West Papua including training young community leaders, raising awareness of and helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and growing small businesses to help strengthen the West Papuan economy.
West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, with an indigenous Melanesian population. December 1, 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of West Papuan independence from Holland. It was forcibly taken over by Indonesia a year later.
Reports show more than 100,000 Papuans are estimated to have died from military operations since Indonesia took control. State-sponsored migration from other parts of Indonesia has now left the indigenous Melanesians a minority in West Papua.
It is time Australia, as a good international citizen concerned about the protection of civilians, did more to ensure the safety of our neighbours.
Executive Director, Act for Peace