Asia-Pacific, Environment, Headlines

INDONESIA: Irian Jaya Hostage Crisis Continues

Pratap Chatterjee and Kalinga Seneviratne

JAKARTA, Jan 22 1996 (IPS) - The fate of 14 people held hostage in Irian Jaya by guerrillas from the ‘Free Papua Movement’ (OPM), remained unclear Monday amid reports of an Indonesian troop build- up in the province.

Negotiations for the release of the eight Indonesians and six foreigners from Britain and the Netherlands held captive by the independence-seeking guerrilla movement, are due to begin this week, but the OPM first wants the Indonesian army to withdraw.

“I believe the Indonesian government will have to withdraw all forces from West Papua in order to start peace talks between the Indonesian government and the OPM,” said Jonh Otto Ondawame, of the West Papua Association, a Sydney-based group associated with the OPM.

He was unwilling to discuss where and when the negotiations would be held, only saying they were still at the “preparation stage”, but stressed that Jakarta should accept that among other issues, the OPM’s independence demands must feature in the talks.

“With hostages, the point is that the demands are political rather than material demands. The fundamental issue is self- determination. For that we are calling upon the international community including South Pacific Forum countries to put the Irian Jaya issue on the international agenda.”

Irian Jaya, the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, was brought under Indonesian control in the 1960s. Much of its population of 1.5 million people are indigenous peoples who live in the island’s thick tropical forests and have little or no contact with the rest of the world.

The Indonesian control is bitterly opposed by guerrillas from Organasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement), commonly referred to as OPM. The rebels have been fighting for self-determination for Irian Jaya, which the locals call West Papua, since the former Dutch colony was ceded to Indonesia in 1969.

In an attempt to highlight their struggle, the OPM, led by Kelly Kwalik, a former schoolteacher and Catholic seminarian, kidnapped 24 people on Jan. 8 near the village of Mapenduma in the central highlands.

The team of 24 were conducting biodiversity research in the Lorentz mountains for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Ten members of the team were subsequently released, but eight Indonesians, four British and two Dutch are still being held.

“Resistance leader Kelly Kwalik and a group of freedom fighters are taking on the might of the Indonesian military,” notes Ondawame.

Ondawame, who is an indigenous Amungme from Irian like Kwalik, says that besides its independence demands, the OPM wants an end to the environmental and social devastation caused by massive mining, logging and forced eviction operations on the island.

“Kwalik’s group wants respect for the land of the Amungme and Komoro people, compensation for the 43,000 lives lost due to Indonesian military activity, an end to the on-going forced removal of 2,000 Amungme and other tribal people to coastal areas,” he adds.

The latest action by the OPM thus has both political and environmental dimensions and as such is directed as well at Freeport McMoRan, a New Orleans company, which operates the world’s largest gold mine at Grasberg some 140 kilomtres west of the hostage drama.

The U.S. company, whose buses and helicopters are the main means of transportation in Irian Jaya, has become the de-facto government on the island.

Environmentalists say that Freeport’s mine has caused major ecological damage to the local mountains, forests and rivers because of the huge quantity of toxic waste that is routinely dumped.

The Indonesian government has responded to the hostage drama with alacrity. Some 100 members of the D-81, a branch of the elite Kopassus regiment, were flown to nearby Timika. A command post for the rescue operation has also been set up at Wamena, the entrance to the Baliem Valley.

And according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), more troops were being flown into the area. But OPM leaders have warned that a rescue attempt would put the lives of the hostages at risk.

There is no love lost between the Amungme and the army over the Freeport mine. In the 1970s the army reportedly killed 2,000 people after OPM guerrillas blew up a slurry pipe.

As recently as Christmas day 1994, four people — Elias Jikwa, Yoel Kogoya, Wendi Tabuni, and Pergamus Waker — were killed that day, allegedly by Indonesian army officers.

This was recently confirmed by an Indonesian government- appointed human rights commission.

According to a report prepared by a Catholic bishop in the Irian Jaya capital of Jayapura, people from three churches in the villages of Arwanop, Banti and Waa had gathered in Waa village to pray that day, after a peaceful demonstration protesting the mine.

After the religious ceremony a group of 15 people left to go to the town of Tembagapura (the Freeport company town) but were arrested on the way by a group of soldiers who accused them of being GPK (security disturbing gang) rebels.

One of the 15 told the bishop that the group were beaten and locked into a Freeport “container” at eight o’clock in the morning on Christmas day.

The group was released from the container and escorted by a group of soldiers onto a Freeport bus, which was on its way to Timika.

One of the group — Wendi Tabuni, a 23-year-old man from Timika — “tried to jump out of the window but one soldier quickly jumped up and stabbed him in the belly with his bayonet … (but he) still jumped out of the window and ran away” the eyewitness told the bishop.

“The bus stopped at once and a number of soldiers jumped down and without warning shot Wendi in the head. The soldiers took his body and threw it in a ravine…”

The other 14 were taken to the Freeport workshop in Koperakopa at about two o’clock in the afternoon where “we were beaten and tortured one by one by the soldiers”, the eyewitness was further quoted in the bishop’s report.

The three “were tortured by being beaten with sticks on the neck from behind, left, right and from the front, till their necks were broken and they died,” claimed the eyewitness.

Last Christmas the OPM marked the anniversary of the killings with a flag-raising at Jilla village and by temporarily blocking a road leading to the Freeport mine.

The month before, the OPM kidnapped two Indonesian high school children near Jayapura. The two children were taken across the border to Papua New Guinea where they are still being held.

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