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Taming separatists by giving away projects

Jakarta Post - March 26, 2013

Rendi A. Witular, Papua – The stakes are high when it comes to infrastructure development work in Papua.

Aside from the pervasive threat of malaria, construction workers deployed in remote areas also put their lives on the line amid the constant threat from Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatists.

In 2010, three workers from the private construction company PT Modern were shot and killed while eight others were injured by OPM fighters while they worked on a road project in Puncak Jaya regency.

In September last year, a construction company had to pay Rp 500 million (US$51,000) "security money" to OPM supporters or its workers risked being shot when working on a road project in Mulia, Puncak Jaya.

"Paying security money for the OPM is inevitable and has become the norm if we want the project to get up and running," said the Public Works Ministry's head for Puncak Jaya, Tolikara and Yahukimo regencies, Sumihar Panjaitan.

"For some projects, we even employed OPM fighters to ensure security. And it's not surprising to see them operate excavators," he said.

According to Tolikara Regent Usman Wanimbo, many OPM fighters and high-ranking figures usually come out of hidings once they know there is a road project in the pipeline.

"They usually want a piece of the project as a subcontractor to source workers," he said. "As for petty fighters, they usually come down from the mountain just to ask for rice or money to buy pigs and liquor," he said.

An official with the Public Works Ministry, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, said that a nephew of OPM commander Goliat Tabuni even had a company in Wamena, Jaya Wijaya regency, which specialized in seeking out sub-contracting projects from the government.

"For security reasons, we usually give them some responsibility, such as sourcing workers or laboring on some road sections. The security forces know about this but they tend to turn a blind eye," said the official.