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West Papua in the grip of militia terror

The Australian - April 29, 2000

Alastair McLeod, Jayapura – West Papuans have emerged from the far west town of Fak Fak with reports of East Timorese style militia threatening and attacking the local people.

In recent weeks 50 supporters of the movement for an independent West Papua have fled Fak Fak to the capital Jayapura in fear of the newly formed Sargas Merah Putih – the red and white militia.

Lazarus Wannaggahus, a spokesman for the group, said that there were striking similarities between the Fak Fak forces and the East Timorese militia. "Like their brothers in East Timor, they intimidate and attack us and wear red and white colours of the Indonesian flag, he said.

Suspicions that the Indonesian army and police force have been covertly establishing militia groups in Fak Fak and Nabire have been circulating in the West Papuan independence movement for the past year. Eyewitness reports and information gathered by the Jayapura based human rights group, Elsham, have now given credence to what were once considered rumours.

John Rumbiak, an Elsham coordinator, wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, detailing abuses that have occurred in West Papua since the election of President Abdurrahman Wahid in October 1999.

Following peaceful demonstrations and Papuan flag raising ceremonies, at least 4 people have been shot dead, 80 held and tortured and 165 injured over the past eight months, according to Elsham. The militia stepped up their activities after a meeting of 500 West Papuan independence delegates in late February, Mr Rumbiak said.

Elsham is tabling a report to the UN Commission for Human Rights on the events in Wayati, a village 5km from Fak Fak on March 19th and 20th. The report says that a convoy of trucks carrying militia, police and Indonesian troops (TNI) arrived in Wayati singing the Indonesian national anthem. The police and militia then ransacked homes and witnesses say militia men urinated on their rice and other foodstuffs. Many villagers ran to the jungle to escape being attacked by the militia, who were armed with machetes and clubs. "The police arbitrarily rounded up 66 men who were taken to a nearby police station and beaten and tortured," Mr Rumbiak said.

Andy Burdam, a 45 year old Papuan teacher at a Fak Fak elementary school gave a chilling account of his treatment by the militia and police. He and his family were about to sit down to their evening meal when police and militia entered his home, punched him and dragged him away. Militia and police took him to the local police station, where he was put in a cell.

Militia men threw large stones at him while Indonesian police looked on. "They did nothing to stop them", he said. He was held for four days by the police who continually punched and kicked him in the chest, head and back. "They hit my head against the wall many times and I bled a lot. I felt sick and afraid", he said.

Mr Burdam will not return to Fak Fak as he fears he may be attacked again by the police and militia, and his wife and four children have left the town and now live in the southern coastal town of Sarong.

Mr Rumbiak says that there is evidence the Fak Fak militia are supported by the police and army. "We believe that the army are supporting the militia," he said. "But we can"t investigate the situation in Fak Fak because we have received threats from the militia that if we go there they will attack our personnel".