Pa­pua mas­sacre shines light on for­got­ten con­flict

Kuwait Times - - International -

JAKARTA: The re­cent mas­sacre of civil­ian work­ers by sep­a­ratist rebels in In­done­sia’s restive Pa­pua prov­ince has cast a spot­light on one of the world’s long­est-run­ning in­sur­gen­cies, with no end to the bloody con­flict in sight.

The killings are a marked es­ca­la­tion from decades of mostly spo­radic skir­mishes be­tween poorly armed and dis­or­ga­nized guer­ril­las and a pow­er­ful In­done­sian mil­i­tary ac­cused of gross hu­man rights abuses against civil­ians.

Some 16 em­ploy­ees of a sta­te­owned con­trac­tor were mur­dered at a re­mote jun­gle work camp on Sun­day with at least three more work­ers still miss­ing.

They were build­ing bridges and roads in a ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture push for In­done­sia’s most im­pov­er­ished re­gion, but rebels claimed they were le­git­i­mate tar­gets, rais­ing con­cerns that the in­de­pen­dence strug­gle has taken a dan­ger­ous new turn.

“There has never been an at­tack of this type of scale by sep­a­ratist guer­ril­las,” said Damien Kings­bury, pro­fes­sor

of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Aus­tralia’s Deakin Univer­sity.

“The out­breaks of mass vi­o­lence to date have been per­pe­trated by the In­done­sian mil­i­tary.”

‘Act of Free Choice’

The con­flict in min­eral-rich Pa­pua traces its roots to Dutch de-coloni­sa­tion in the early 1960s, with more re­cent griev­ances fanned by marginal­i­sa­tion of the eth­nic Me­lane­sian pop­u­la­tion and wide­spread rights abuses, in­clud­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. Pa­pua, which shares a bor­der with is­land na­tion Pa­pua New Guinea, just north of Aus­tralia, re­mained a Dutch colony for more than a decade af­ter the Nether­lands re­lin­quished its for­mer East In­dies ter­ri­to­ries to a newly in­de­pen­dent In­done­sia in 1949.

De­spite lay­ing the ground­work for Pa­puan self-gov­ern­ment, the Nether­lands came un­der pres­sure from a White House fear­ful about com­mu­nism spread­ing across South­east Asia.

So it agreed in 1962 to place Pa­pua un­der tem­po­rary UN ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore it was ceded to In­done­sia a year later, on the con­di­tion it hold an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

The vote-called the Act of Free Choice-is widely viewed as a sham. About 1,000 hand­picked Pa­puans unan­i­mously chose to re­main part of In­done­sia, al­legedly un­der the threat of vi­o­lence.

Jakarta cites the ref­er­en­dum as proof its con­trol is le­git­i­mate. But for some Pa­puans, who are eth­ni­cally dif­fer­ent and share al­most no cul­tural ties with the rest of the sprawl­ing ar­chi­pel­ago, it was the start of an­other colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion that has seen them dis­pos­sessed of land where their an­ces­tors lived for cen­turies.

Much of the in­sur­gency has cen­tred around a huge gold and cop­per mine op­er­ated by US-based firm Freeport Mc­MoRan, seen lo­cally as a sym­bol of en­vi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion and ex­ploita­tion of Pa­pua’s enor­mous min­eral wealth.

Since his 2014 elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo has over­seen an un­prece­dented de­vel­op­ment push, in­clud­ing the am­bi­tious 4,300-kilo­me­tre (2,700-mile) Trans-Pa­pua high­way.

But an­a­lysts say it may be too lit­tle, too late. “If Pa­pua is part of In­done­sia, it should’ve been built up in the same way as other re­gions,” said Adri­ana Elis­a­beth, a Pa­pua ex­pert at the In­done­sian In­sti­tute of Sciences.

The depth of dis­con­tent was un­der­scored last year when 1.8 mil­lion Pa­puans signed a ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful pe­ti­tion ask­ing the UN to rec­og­nize a self-de­ter­mi­na­tion vote.


MAKASSAR: A widow, whose hus­band was killed in a mas­sacre by sus­pected sep­a­ratist rebels, grieves fol­low­ing the ar­rival of her late hus­band’s cas­ket in Makassar, South Su­lawesi, on Fri­day.

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