Subject: IPS: Activists Say Arms Abuses In Indonesia On the Rise

Inter Press Service September 25, 2001


By Bob Burton


Human rights advocate from the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua, John Rumbiak, sees a troubling increase in the human rights situation since Megawati Sukornoputri became president.

The soft-spoken Rumbiak, who supervises the Jayapura-based Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM) also warns that the crackdown by the military and police in West Papua has gone beyond the armed independence groups.

"Newspaper editors were summoned three weeks ago due to reporting our press conference. The military are not only targeting political activists but now human rights activists and the media too," he said.

A little over a week ago several ELSHAM staff were called in for interrogation by police after working on an investigation into human rights abuses by the military.

Rumbiak's concerns are shared by the rights group Amnesty International. "In Aceh and Papua, (or Irian Jaya) it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the current government and that of (former) President Suharto," said Amnesty spokesman Damien Spry.

"Agents of the state are resorting to the same tactics of intimidating, imprisoning, torturing and killing those suspected of opposing Jakarta's rule," he adds.

International pressure on President Megawati Sukornoputri to reform the military is easing as the United States scrambles to enlist support from Muslim nations, of which Indonesia is the most populous, for its planned retaliation against suspected Muslim terrorist groups.

On Sept. 20, President George Bush, who met with the Indonesian leader in Washington, agreed on an economic support package as well as resuming military contact with Jakarta and lifting the embargo on arms sales that was imposed after the military rampage in East Timor in late 1999.

Megawati was among the first leaders to support U.S. moves against Osama bin Laden and allied groups, which have supporters in Indonesia.

It is a policy shift that alarms Amnesty International, which argues that the military is continuing to commit serious human rights violations in the provinces of Aceh and West Papua where pro-independence movements are active.

"Any military assistance to Indonesia must be targeted at the core issues of institutional reform, accountability and transparency," Spry said. "Under these circumstances, exporting arms or engaging in operational training with Indonesia would send completely the wrong message."

West Papua province, populated by people of Melanesian descent who have mostly converted to Christianity, is growing increasingly resentful and defiant towards the Indonesian military-backed government.

With some within the independence movement resorting to violence -- including against Muslim transmigrants from other parts of Indonesia -- military reaction has become more brutal.

While Rumbiak is adamant that non-violent change is the only path forward, it is a view that more militant members of the independence movement do not share. Of particular concern is the growing level of arms smuggling along the border area between West Papua and Papua New Guinea.

"Arms trading is now going on in the area. We have investigated this. The guns and grenades distributed to the hardliners...I want immediate action taken to stop this," said Rumbiak, alarmed by the increasing violence.

"The repression must stop. We appeal to the police forces and the hardliners amongst the independence activists to agree to a cease-fire. Bullets, arrows and spears will not reduce the problem, but only create more," he said.

The crackdown is the latest step by the military to reassert its control over the province since the fall of the Suharto military dictatorship. In 1999 then-President Abdurrahmad Wahid gave his blessing and provided funding for the convening of a Papuan Congress in May 2000, which brought together 500 official delegates from all parts of the province.

The Congress ended with the adoption of a resolution in support of independence and high hopes of political progress. However, in the subsequent crackdown on the independence movement, the majority of the political leadership have been arrested and imprisoned.

In her inaugural address on Aug. 16, Megawati apologized for human rights abuses in Aceh and West Papua, promising firm action against soldiers guilty of human-rights abuses.

"We need a security force which is effective, highly disciplined and under government control," she said. However, she also warned that moves toward independence would not be tolerated.

For its part, Australia backs Indonesia's claim to control West Papua but urges restraint in dealing with the independence movement. "What we have told them is the lesson of East Timor: if you want West Papua to remain in Indonesia you have to win their support through a process of resolving conflict through peaceful means rather than resorting to heavy-handed tactics," a government spokesman said.

The lack of international attention on the deteriorating human rights climate in West Papua frustrates Rumbiak. "Why the silence of the international community? Because of concerns about sovereignty and economic interests," he said.

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