The Secret War Against The Defenseless People Of West Papua
By John Pilger
03/09/06 "ICH" -- -- In 1993, I and four others travelled
clandestinely across East Timor to gather evidence of the genocide
committed by the Indonesian dictatorship. Such was the depth of
silence about this tiny country that the only map I could find
before I set out was one with blank spaces stamped "Relief Data
Incomplete". Yet few places had been as defiled and abused by
murderous forces. Not even Pol Pot had succeeded in despatching,
proportionally, as many people as the Indonesian tyrant Suharto had
done in collusion with the "international community".
In East Timor, I found a country littered with graves, their black
crosses crowding the eye: crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the
hillsides, crosses beside the road. They announced the murder of
entire communities, from babies to the elderly. In 2000, when the
East Timorese, displaying a collective act of courage with few
historical parallels, finally won their freedom, the United Nations
set up a truth commission; on 24 January, its 2,500 pages were
published. I have never read anything like it. Using mostly official
documents, it recounts in painful detail the entire disgrace of East
Timor's blood sacrifice. It says that 180,000 East Timorese were
killed by Indonesian troops or died from enforced starvation. It
describes the "primary roles" in this carnage of the governments of
the United States, Britain and Australia. America's "political and
military support were fundamental" in crimes that ranged from "mass
executions to forced resettlements, sexual and other horrific forms
of torture as well as abse against children". Britain, a
co-conspirator in the invasion, was the main arms supplier. If you
want to see through the smokescreen currently around Iraq, and
understand true terrorism, read this document.
As I read it, my mind went back to the letters Foreign Office
officials wrote to concerned members of the public and MPs following
the showing of my film Death of a Nation. Knowing the truth, they
denied that British-supplied Hawk jets were blowing straw-roofed
villages to bits and that British-supplied Heckler and Koch
machine-guns were finishing off the occupants. They even lied about
the scale of suffering.
And it is all happening again, wrapped in the same silence and with
the "international community" playing the same part as backer and
beneficiary of the crushing of a defenceless people. Indonesia's
brutal occupation of West Papua, a vast, resource-rich province -
stolen from its people, like East Timor - is one of the great
secrets of our time. Recently, the Australian minister of
"communications", Senator Helen Coonan, failed to place it on the
map of her own region, as if it did not exist.
An estimated 100,000 Papuans, or 10 per cent of the population, have
been killed by the Indonesian military. This is a fraction of the
true figure, according to refugees. In January, 43 West Papuans
reached Australia's north coast after a hazardous six-week journey
in a dugout. They had no food, and had dribbled their last fresh
water into their children's mouths. "We knew," said Herman Wainggai,
the leader, "that if the Indonesian military had caught us, most of
us would have died. They treat West Papuans like animals. They kill
us like animals. They have created militias and jihadis to do just
that. It is the same as East Timor."
For over a year, an estimated 6,000 people have been hiding in dense
jungle after their villages and crops were destroyed by Indonesian
special forces. Raising the West Papuan flag is "treason". Two men
are serving 15 and ten-year sentences for merely trying. Following
an attack on one village, a man was presented as an "example" and
petrol poured over him and his hair set alight.
When the Netherlands gave Indonesia its independence in 1949, it
argued that West Papua was a separate geographic and ethnic entity
with a distinctive national character. A report published last
November by the Institute of Netherlands History in The Hague
revealed that the Dutch had secretly recognised the "unmistakable
beginning of the formation of a Papuan state", but were bullied by
the administration of John F Kennedy to accept "temporary"
Indonesian control over what a White House adviser called "a few
thousand miles of cannibal land".
The West Papuans were conned. The Dutch, Americans, British and
Australians backed an "Act of Free Choice" ostensibly run by the UN.
The movements of a UN monitoring team of 25 were restricted by the
Indonesian military and they were denied interpreters. In 1969, out
of a population of 800,000, some 1,000 West Papuans "voted". All
were selected by the Indonesians. At gunpoint, they "agreed" to
remain under the rule of General Suharto - who had seized power in
1965 in what the CIA later described as "one of the worst mass
murders of the late 20th century". In 1981, the Tribunal on Human
Rights in West Papua, held in exile, heard from Eliezer Bonay,
Indonesia's first governor of the province, that approximately
30,000 West Papuans had been murdered during 1963-69. Little of this
was reported in the west.
The silence of the "international community" is explained by the
fabulous wealth of West Papua. In November 1967, soon after Suharto
had consolidated his seizure of power, the Time-Life Corporation
sponsored an extraordinary conference in Geneva. The participants
included the most powerful capitalists in the world, led by the
banker David Rockefeller. Sitting opposite them were Suharto's men,
known as the "Berkeley mafia", as several had enjoyed US government
scholarships to the University of California at Berkeley. Over three
days, the Indonesian economy was carved up, sector by sector. An
American and European consortium was handed West Papua's nickel;
American, Japanese and French companies got its forests. However,
the prize - the world's largest gold reserve and third-largest
copper deposit, literally a mountain of copper and gold - went to
the US mining giant Freeport-McMoran. On the board is Henry
Kissinger, who, as US secretary of state, gave the "green light" to
Suharto to invade East Timor, says theDutch report.
Freeport is today probably the biggest single source of revenue for
the Indonesian regime: the company is said to have handed Jakarta 33
billion dollars between 1992 and 2004. Little of this has reached
the people of West Papua. Last December, 55 people reportedly
starved to death in the district of Yahukimo. The Jakarta Post noted
the "horrible irony" of hunger in such an "immensely rich" province.
According to the World Bank, "38 per cent of Papua's population is
living in poverty, more than double the national average".
The Freeport mines are guarded by Indonesia's special forces, who
are among the world's most seasoned terrorists, as their documented
crimes in East Timor demonstrate. Known as Kopassus, they have been
armed by the British and trained by the Australians. Last December,
the Howard government in Canberra announced that it would resume
"co-operation" with Kopassus at the Australian SAS base near Perth.
In an inversion of the truth, the then Australian defence minister,
Senator Robert Hill, described Kopassus as having "the most
effective capability to respond to a counter-hijack or hostage
recovery threat". The files of human-rights organisations overflow
with evidence of Kopassus's terrorism. On 6 July 1998, on the West
Papuan island of Biak, just north of Australia, special forces
massacred more than 100 people, most of them women.
However, the Indonesian military has not been able to crush the
popular Free Papua Movement (OPM). Since 1965, almost alone, the OPM
has reminded the Indonesians, often audaciously, that they are
invaders. In the past two months, the resistance has caused the
Indonesians to rush more troops to West Papua. Two British-supplied
Tactica armoured personnel carriers fitted with water cannon have
arrived from Jakarta. These were first delivered during the late
Robin Cook's "ethical dimension" in foreign policy. Hawk
fighter-bombers, made by BAE Systems, have been used against West
The fate of the 43 asylum-seekers in Australia is precarious. In
contravention of international law, the Howard government has moved
them from the mainland to Christmas Island, which is part of an
Australian "exclusion zone" for refugees. We should watch carefully
what happens to these people. If the history of human rights is not
the history of great power's impunity, the UN must return to West
Papua, as it did finally to East Timor.
Or do we always have to wait for the crosses to multiply?
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