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Church leaders boycott Yudhoyono's visit to West Papua

Press Release - December 25, 2004

A boycott of today's Christmas visit to the capital of the Indonesian province of West Papua is an embarrassing rebuke to newly elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In a protest to highlight community outrage over military operations underway in the province's interior, church leaders from all major denominations in West Papua, led by West Papua's largest church, the Christian Evangelical Church in the Land of Papua (GKI), today released a statement in Jayapura denouncing the Presidential visit.

President Yudohoyono is today offering a well-publicized gift to the people of West Papua, the establishment of a Papua People's Council (MRP), which will represent tribal and religious leaders in local parliament and is part of a special autonomy scheme for the province.

"Mr Yudohyono speaks of resolving the West Papua issue peacefully and giving symbolic gifts to the Papuans, yet his military is killing our people – more than 6,000 civilians are right now hiding in the forests of Puncak Jaya fearing for their lives and dozens have died from hunger. What kind of Christmas gift is this", said Rev. Herman Saud, Chairman of GKI in the strongly worded statement.

In the last two weeks a series of calls from a broad coalition of religious, student, human rights and women's groups to stop the operation in Puncak Jaya and allow humanitarian assistance into the area have been ignored by Jakarta.

"The attitude of ignoring the demands of the West Papuan people and visiting in the middle of the operation in Puncak Jaya where thousands are displaced is really an insult to the West Papuans. It demonstrates the discriminatory policy of the Indonesian government towards West Papua for over 40 years", said Rev. Dr Benny Giay, an academic and head of the Peace and Justice Bureau of the West Papuan Bible Camp Church.

"Authorities are always manipulating Christmas events for the interests of Jakarta, not the interests of the West Papuan people. Our people are dying and he comes to celebrate", said Reverend Giay.

"It is like the President is coming to Papua to dance on our graves", said Socrates Sofyan Yoman, President of the West Papuan Baptist Church.

"This administration does not listen to the voices of the Papuan people. It is very simple – stop the military operation, withdraw the troops and allow us to deliver food, medicine and shelter to the refugees. Then he will be welcome," demanded Yoman.

Church officials have been monitoring the Puncak Jaya crisis via information filtering out from the area by couriers. An influx of troops since September has seen the highlands area surrounding the towns of Mulia and Puncak Jaya become a "zone of military operations". Last week an extra 900 troops were deployed.

A report from church sources received earlier this month indicated eight more people had died of starvation, which brought the total deaths from hunger to twenty three. No reports have emerged since then due to lack of access to aid workers and church officials. Over six thousand people are still without help and have been prevented from receiving food supplies and medical aid.

Wider destabilising political developments

Commenting on the deteriorating situation in Puncak Jaya, Reverend Herman Saud claimed the operation in Puncak Jaya is clearly a reflection of the wider destabilising policies in West Papua today.

"The statements made by Mr Yudhoyono that no civilians would be harmed by military operations in the Papuan highlands contradicts reality", said Reverend Saud. "The policies of this administration must be questioned, not only by the Christian church here in Papua. This is an issue that must be confronted by Indonesians as a people and by the international community", he added.

Increasing militarisation, coupled with human rights abuses and unmet demands for independence has turned Indonesia's easternmost province into a "time bomb waiting to go off". Locals are losing patience with Jakarta, with efforts to establish a "zone of peace" throughout the province at the brink of failure.

An extra 25,000 troops have been poured into province since 2000, and more than a million migrants have moved into the province from elsewhere in Indonesia, rapidly closing the gap on the 1.5 million native Papuans.

In another development, this week the Mayor of the coastal town of Sorong told community leaders that police had found 260 home made guns and dozens of petrol bombs in the Teminabuan district. Over the last year reports have filtered out from Sorong that shipments of guns have been arriving and are being sold to local people and to militia members recruited by the notorious Eurico Gutterres. Gutterres was accused of committing crimes against humanity following the bloodbath after the 1999 East Timor referendum.

Meanwhile, it has been reported by police sources in Puncak Jaya that several attacks on police officers in the area have been orchestrated, not by OPM, but by Kopassus operatives who have infiltrated the OPM. The officers shot have all been native Papuans.

Tom Beanal, the Deputy of the moderate political organisation, the Papuan Presidium Council, believes the whole West Papuan political situation is destabilising and needs to be resolved peacefully.

"This is the time international community and the Jakarta government must work together to stop the military operation in the highlands, withdraw the additional troops in West Papua and begin to create a space for a dialogue between Indonesian Government and the West Papuans," appealed Mr Beanal.