Category Archives: West Papua

Papua shooting shuts down Freeport route

West Papuans have long expressed frustration about the environmental destruction caused by the Freeport mine operations in Mimika regency. Photo: MIneral Policy Institute

Reuters | Radio New Zealand | 13 November 2017

The Indonesian unit of Freeport-McMoRan has temporarily shut the main supply route to its Papua mine after a shooting incident, a spokesman says, amid escalating tensions between security forces and an armed Papuan group in the area.

No one had been reported hurt after shots were fired at a vehicle, but the main supply route to the world’s second-biggest copper mine had been temporarily closed while the security situation was assessed, Freeport Indonesia spokesman Riza Pratama said in text message.

Authorities in Indonesia’s eastern province of Papua are delivering food and aid to villages near the mine where security forces say the rebel group has blocked residents’ movement, as security personnel surround the area, a police official said.

Police said a group linked to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was preventing about 1000 people from leaving five villages near the Grasberg mine operated by the US company.

“We continue to try a persuasive approach and dialogue,” said Viktor Mackbon, police chief of the Mimika area, where the villages are located. Talks with the group would be conducted through public and religious figures in the region, he added.

Officials on Saturday said about 200 police and military personnel had been deployed in preparation to secure the area by force, if necessary.

Police said they will distribute, on Monday, a notice in the area for the “armed criminal group” to give themselves up and surrender weapons.

Reuters could not immediately reach members of the rebel group, the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-OPM), to seek comment.

On Friday, the group denied occupying villages near the mine, but said it was “at war” with the police, military, and Freeport.

A resident from one of the villages, Banti, said security forces had blocked access to the village.

Residents he had spoken were not being held hostage by separatists but “are only worried about what might happen if the police and military come into their area”, he said.

A state of emergency has been declared in the area and security stepped up after a string of shootings since August 17 that killed one police officer and wounded six.

Papua has had a long-running, and sometimes violent, separatist movement since it was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969.

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Papua separatists dispute Indonesia claim of hostage taking

The giant Grasberg open-pit copper and gold mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. Photo by Alfindra Primaldhi/Wikimedia Commons

Associated Press | November 10, 2017

A member of an armed separatist group in Indonesia’s Papua region has disputed police claims that it’s holding villagers hostage during a standoff with security forces.

The remote region’s long-simmering insurgency has flared in the past month, with one paramilitary police officer killed and six others wounded in attacks by the National Liberation Army of West Papua. The two sides are also waging a PR war, with police calling the group an armed criminal gang and accusing it of attacks on civilians.

Hendrik Wanmang, who described himself as a commander of the armed group that goes by the Indonesian acronym TNP, said in an interview Friday that Banti and Kimbeli villagers can’t go to an area the separatists define as a battlefield with security forces because it’s unsafe. But otherwise villagers are free to go to their farms and move about as they please, he said.

Police on Thursday said a group of about 100 including 25 gunmen were occupying the two villages and preventing 1,300 people from leaving. Several hundred of the people are migrant workers from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

“It’s not true, it’s only the provocation of Indonesian military and police with the aim of damaging our image,” Wanmang told The Associated Press. “People there are safe, both natives and non-natives are free to do activities as usual.”

Wanmang was one of two commanders who signed an Oct. 21 statement warning of unspecified retribution against security forces for alleged brutality against indigenous Papuans.

The letter declared an area near the U.S.-owned Grasberg gold and copper mine as a battlefield.

The mine owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. is a source of tension in the region due to environmental damage and indigenous Papuans’ resentment at profits from local resources being sent abroad.

A low-level insurgency for independence has simmered in Papua since it was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in 1963. The region, which makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a U.N.-sponsored ballot of tribal leaders that has since been dismissed as a sham.

Indonesia maintains a heavy security presence in the region and restricts foreign journalists from freely reporting there.

Wanmang said police descriptions of TNP as an armed criminal group and accusations of crimes against civilians were a tactic to discredit the Papuan independence movement.

“We are not a new group, we are not a criminal group,” he said. “We are separatist group who fought for Papua from generation to generation demanding the sovereignty of the people of Papua, demanding Papuan independence, separate from Indonesia.”

Security minister Wiranto, who goes by one name, has asked security officials to peacefully persuade the separatists to leave.

Military commander Gatot Nurmantyo said in a statement Friday that the villagers are “hostages” and the military is conducting surveillance of their villages. With police, it hopes to negotiate a solution but is readying other measures.

“We are also preparing ways that are hard and must be done very thoroughly,” he said. “Currently we are working closely with police and setting up a joint team in handling the problem.”

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Global Petition for West Papua

Free West Papua Campaign

There is a very significant grassroots campaign that is currently taking place in West Papua, and around the world.

In January the Free West Papua Campaign launched a petition calling on the UN to urgently act on the situation in West Papua, and we’d like to inform you & invite you to take action too.

As you likely know, West Papuans have been fighting for independence against Indonesia since 1963, in what has become one of the world’s longest-running military occupations of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have lost their lives in the occupation, and reports of Papuans being shot, imprisoned, kidnapped and tortured are still a weekly occurrence. Indonesia continue to enforce strict regulations on media and NGOs, so much of what happens continues to avoid international attention.

Just Last week 17 people were shot, including children, in Deiyai. One person was killed and others are still in recovery. Furthermore, Between 30th June and 6th July, over 130 West Papuan people were arrested, including children, and many of them tortured, by the Indonesian police for peaceful actions. The Indonesian government has denied these reports but the ICP Human Rights report for further information.

The global petition for West Papua has been run for the last six months and has so far collected over 150,000 names of international solidarity for West Papua. 

The Indonesian government have reacted by criminalising and banning this petition and the host website, Avaaz, across the country, and have arrested West Papuans for signing it. West Papuan deputy leader, Yanto Awerkion, of the KNPB in Timika, is currently still being detained by Indonesian police, and is facing charges of treason, and 15 years in jail for collecting signatures for the petition.

Despite this, tens of thousands of West Papuans have been meeting in secret to sign this petition. Compare these numbers to the 1026 (0.2 % of the population) who were forced at gunpoint to raise their hands in favour of being annexed with Indonesia in 1969, during the illegal “Act of Free Choice”. There was NO vote, West Papuans have never exercised their right to self-determination under international law.

This petition carries the message directly from the people of West Papua, to the UN asking them to review this right that they have been calling for for 55 years. Therefore, please join us in ‘One voice of International solidarity for One voice from West Papua’, and help the West Papua voices be heard at the UN this August.

The petition will be run until August 30th, when the Swim for West Papua team will swim the petition 69 kms, taking approximately 30 hours, across Lake Geneva, handing the petition with our names on it directly in to the UN headquarters. 

For more information please do not hesitate to contact us office@FreeWestPapua.org or go to our website www.freewestpapua.org

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How West Papua’s gold rush has created a wasteland: lush tropical riverland is laid waste by toxic dumping from the world’s biggest gold mine 

Dead trees affected by gold mine waste, known as tailings are seen in Timika. Indonesia produces over $70billion in gold a year but the local people in West Papua rarely see any of that money

Dead trees affected by gold mine waste, known as tailings are seen in Timika. Indonesia produces over $70billion in gold a year but the local people in West Papua rarely see any of that money

  •  In 1969 Indonesia annexed what had been Dutch New Guinea after a highly ‘Act of Free Choice’ referendum 
  •  Since then the area, whose indigenous people are ethnically similar to Papua New Guineans, has been  swamped by settlers from other over-crowded Indonesian islands
  • West Papua is home to the world’s third largest copper mine and large deposits of gold have also been found
  • But the gold rush at the Grasberg mine has devastated the ecology of the rivers which run through the area
  • Indonesia is accused by an Australian group of a ‘slow-motion genocide’ against indigenous West Papuans 

Chris Summers | Mail Online | 6 February 2017

The western half of the island of New Guinea is rich in minerals, especially copper and gold, but its discovery has been a very mixed blessing for the local people.

It was the Dutch who first discovered minerals on the island in the 1930s and when the Netherlands cut its ties with the colony in the late 1960s it was the presence of the goodies underground which tempted neighbouring Indonesia. 

What had been Dutch New Guinea was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 after a highly questionable referendum, known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’. 

An illegal gold prospector sifts through sand and rock as she pans for gold in Timika. Indigenous tribes in West Papua such as the Kamoro are still trying to get their fair share of the country's wealth

An illegal gold prospector sifts through sand and rock as she pans for gold in Timika. Indigenous tribes in West Papua such as the Kamoro are still trying to get their fair share of the country’s wealth

The indigenous people, who are ethnically Melanesian, mainly Christian, and kinfolk of neighbouring Papua New Guinea, have been oppressed ever since by Muslim Indonesian settlers and Jakarta’s occupying army. 

In 1971 Melanesians made up 96 percent of the population but now they are in a minority and by 2020, if migration rates remain the same, they will be less than three in 10 of the population. 

The West Papuans have also suffered as the land they depend on has been devastated by mining.

A man wearing a Santa Claus hat pans for gold in the Aikwa riverbed. According to reports, the Grasberg mine, owned Freeport McMoran, dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste directly into the Aikwa delta system every day, turning thousands of hectares of forest and mangroves into wasteland

A man wearing a Santa Claus hat pans for gold in the Aikwa riverbed. According to reports, the Grasberg mine, owned Freeport McMoran, dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste directly into the Aikwa delta system every day, turning thousands of hectares of forest and mangroves into wasteland

Indigenous tribes like the Kamoro say they have been hit by disease, poverty and environmental degradation since operations began at the Grasberg mine in 1973. 

Their chief, Hironimus Urmani, told The Guardian: ‘Nature is a blessing from God, and we are known by the three S’s: Sago (trees), sampan (canoes) and Sungani (rivers). But life is very difficult now.’

The Free West Papua movement has been demanding independence for the territory but has struggled to gain attention in a world distracted by other issues. 

The Grasberg mine is owned by an American firm, Freeport McMoRan, which is based in Arizona. They did not respond to Mail Online’s request for a response.

The Aikwa river flows into the ocean but nowadays it is virtually an outflow pipe of the Grasberg gold and copper mine

The Aikwa river flows into the ocean but nowadays it is virtually an outflow pipe of the Grasberg gold and copper mine

The gold mine waste, known as tailings, has killed off thousands of trees in the Aikwa river delta

The gold mine waste, known as tailings, has killed off thousands of trees in the Aikwa river delta

The Aikwa river is so polluted by mine waste that all the fish in it have long ago died off and the water is completely undrinkable. All it is good for now is gold prospecting

The Aikwa river is so polluted by mine waste that all the fish in it have long ago died off and the water is completely undrinkable. All it is good for now is gold prospecting

Most prospectors are able to obtain around a gram of gold per day, which they can sell for around £25. It takes a keen eye to spot the tiny dots of gold in the murky water

Kamoro tribespeople working on the devices they use to catch gold in the Aikwa river. The Grasberg mine allegedly dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste directly into the Aikwa delta system every day, turning thousands of hectares of forest and mangroves into wasteland

Kamoro tribespeople working on the devices they use to catch gold in the Aikwa river. The Grasberg mine allegedly dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste directly into the Aikwa delta system every day, turning thousands of hectares of forest and mangroves into wasteland

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West Papua: Mining in an occupation forgotten by the world

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

Pacific Media Centre

Now more than ever, say activists, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to a planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it. Nithin Coca reports.

It is a region rich in natural resources, the biggest source of tax revenue for the fourth most populous country in the world and, under de-facto military rule – it is also a place where activists are jailed, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

So why doesn’t the world know more about West Papua?

Quite simply, because Indonesia’s restive, easternmost region is home to “one of the least covered armed conflicts in the world,” says Bob Dietz, Asia-Pacific director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the more than 50-year conflict.

There are no official statistics but estimates put the number of Papuans killed by Indonesian authorities at anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

Four decades of heavy restrictions on media and human rights groups’ access to West Papua has resulted in a near media blackout.

Linked to all this is a United States-based mining giant, Freeport-McMoRan.

Though its Phoenix, Arizona, headquarters is almost 15,000 kilometres away from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, it is the country’s largest taxpayer.

State security
In 2014, Freeport contributed a massive US$1.5 billion to the Indonesian state coffers.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of its profits and revenue depends on its Papua operations – and this has wider implications.

“Freeport needs a lot of government security support to operate,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“In remote areas like Papua, this means less monitoring and more potential rights abuses taking place in their mining operations.”

In fact, national police and military are in charge of ‘maintaining order’ so that copper and gold can be safely extracted, and tax revenues can flow into Jakarta.

Freeport’s massive Grasberg mine – one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, with a minority stake held by global mining giant Rio Tinto – is essentially closed off to outside access.

“I like to joke that even if Jesus Christ wanted to visit [West] Papua, I don’t think he would get a permit,” says Harsono, noting that official permission requires signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies – an impossible task.

“Any bureaucracy that requires so many signatures to get a permit means there must be something terribly wrong in the area they want to enter.”

A history of oppression
West Papua (known by the Jakarta administration simply as Papua) forms the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half being the independent nation of Papua New Guinea) and has long been a crown jewel for aspiring global powers.

It has, at various times, been controlled by Germany, The Netherlands and Australia, before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a military-run election in which about 1000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote for ascension.

West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s ‘New Order’ era under General Suharto.

“Suharto was a brutal dictator who savagely treated Papuans like animals and ordered many bombings and massacres in West Papua,” says Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua.

These attacks were aimed chiefly at destroying the region’s independence aspirations and forcing its people to become Indonesians.

Wenda currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, travelling around the world to raise awareness of the brutal atrocities committed by Indonesia against his people.

He witnessed this personally, when, as a child, the Indonesian military bombed his village and killed members of his family.

Crucial role
Natural resources have played a crucial role in the trajectory of Papuan history.

Just four years after its annexation, Freeport arrived, marking the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company, the Indonesian government and few others.

Meanwhile, the people of West Papua have endured great pain and suffering.

There was hope when Suharto’s dictatorship fell in 1998, bringing free elections to the archipelago, and even an independence referendum in East Timor, which was itself invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and faced similar, bloody oppression.

It turned out to be false hope for West Papua.

“It looked as though an independence referendum was imminent but the new Indonesian government became incredibly scared of losing West Papua,” says Wenda.

Theys Eluay murdered
“So [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay was murdered by the Indonesian authorities, and ever since then, the situation in West Papua has only declined. There have been no real attempts to help with human rights or self-determination from any Indonesian government since.”

What has changed, however, has been an even greater investment in resource development, and the continued inflow of migrants from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s two most populous islands, into West Papua to manage resource development.

“Indonesia’s in-country migration is coming close to making Papuans a minority in their traditional homeland,” says Dietz.

Of a population of 3.5 million, only about half are from the hundreds of Melanesian Papuan ethnic groups, with the remainder of the population coming from Javanese, Sundanese, Malay and Madurese migrants, nearly all of whom have arrived since 1969.

Moreover, Indonesia plans to further exploit Papua by expanding palm oil plantations into traditionally-held forested land, and increasing downstream mining revenue by building smelters and other industrial facilities along the coast.

“I’m concerned with how the government uses [all this] tax money,” says Eric Samudra, a Jakarta-based governance researcher. “Is it being used for the good of the people, especially Papuans? The answer, obviously, is no.”

Disengaged public
Despite the news of police killing four protesters ilast December, many Indonesians remain silent on their government’s occupation of a minority, mostly non-Islamic people who have been waging a low-level insurgency for freedom and justice.

“The problem is most people choose not to do anything about it, while some others believe that nothing can be done,” says Samudra.

However, recent documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing are slowly opening Indonesians eyes to the country’s troubled past, which includes a bloody repression of its nascent Communist Party in the 1960s.

John M. Miller, the National Coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, who publishes a monthly update on the situation in West Papua, believes that while public awareness is growing, it still has a long way to go before real change can occur.

“The silence is beginning to be broken, but a broad understanding isn’t there yet.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to bring greater development and autonomy to Indonesia’s outer islands, and the December killings brought Papua to the forefront of his administration’s efforts.

But questions remain about whether he will really be able to change the Papua situation.

“We believe President Jokowi would like to make a difference in Papua, and he has already made some moves to do that,” said Harsono, pointing to the president’s pledge to visit Papua frequently and listen to local concerns.

“But moving the security and civilian bureaucracy over [West] Papua is not easy.”

Empty words
That is one reason why many Papuan activists, including Wenda, are tired of empty words and want a referendum.

“We do not believe that any outcome other than full independence for West Papua can ever be a solution.”

On the ground, government policy seems to be going in the opposite direction.

A case in point: the planned new smelter, to be operated by Freeport and an Indonesian partner, will be built on traditional Kamoro lands in the Arafura coast, south of Freeport’s existing mining operations in the region.

The smelter was negotiated directly between the Indonesian government and Freeport, with no say or consultation from the local people.

Not surprisingly, locals groups oppose the smelter, which they fear will further pollute their lands and destroy their traditional way of living. If plans move forward, tensions will likely rise.

Dominikus Mitoro, acting chair of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation leadership council, has said publicly:

“Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems,” and that “no business will run smoothly until it leaves [our lands].”

According to activists, now more than ever, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to the planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it.

But that access seems unlikely for now.

“Indonesia’s leaders appear determined not to lose another part of its far-flung archipelago by having troublesome reporters, international or Indonesian, expose what is happening in Papua,” says Dietz.

Freeport McMoRan declined to comment on this story.

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WEST PAPUA: Mining in an occupation forgotten by the world

west_papua_morning_star

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (Getty/Ulet Ifansasti)

Nithin Coca | Equal Times

It is a region rich in natural resources, the biggest source of tax revenue for the fourth most populous country in the world and, under de-facto military rule, it is a place where activists are jailed, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

So why doesn’t the world know more about West Papua?

Quite simply, because Indonesia’s restive, easternmost region is home to “one of the least covered armed conflicts in the world,” said Bob Dietz, Asia-Pacific director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the more than 50-year conflict.

There are no official statistics but estimates put the number of Papuans killed by Indonesian authorities at anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

Four decades of heavy restrictions on media and human rights groups’ access to West Papua has resulted in a near media blackout.

Linked to all this is a United States-based mining giant, Freeport-McMoRan.

Though its Phoenix, Arizona headquarters is almost 15,000 kilometres away from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, it is the country’s largest taxpayer.

In 2014, Freeport contributed a massive US$1.5 billion to the Indonesian state coffers.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of its profits and revenue depends on its Papua operations – and this has wider implications.

“Freeport needs a lot of government security support to operate,” said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“In remote areas like Papua, this means less monitoring and more potential rights abuses taking place in their mining operations.”

In fact, national police and military are in charge of ‘maintaining order’ so that copper and gold can be safely extracted, and tax revenues can flow into Jakarta.

Freeport’s massive Grasberg mine – one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, with a minority stake held by global mining giant Rio Tinto – is essentially closed off to outside access.

“I like to joke that even if Jesus Christ wanted to visit [West] Papua, I don’t think he would get a permit,” said Harsono, noting that official permission requires signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies – an impossible task.

“Any bureaucracy that requires so many signatures to get a permit means there must be something terribly wrong in the area they want to enter.”

A history of oppression

West Papua (known by the Jakarta administration simply as Papua) forms the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half being the independent nation of Papua New Guinea) and has long been a crown jewel for aspiring global powers.

It has, at various times, been controlled by Germany, The Netherlands and Australia, before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a military-run election in which about 1,000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote for ascension.

West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s ‘New Order’ era under General Suharto.

“Suharto was a brutal dictator who savagely treated Papuans like animals and ordered many bombings and massacres in West Papua,” Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua campaign told Equal Times.

These attacks were aimed chiefly at destroying the region’s independence aspirations and forcing its people to become Indonesians.

Wenda currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, travelling around the world to raise awareness of the brutal atrocities committed by Indonesia against his people.

He witnessed this personally, when, as a child, the Indonesian military bombed his village and killed members of his family.

Natural resources have played a crucial role in the trajectory of Papuan history.

Just four years after its annexation, Freeport arrived, marking the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company, the Indonesian government and few others.

Meanwhile, the people of West Papua have endured great pain and suffering.

There was hope when Suharto’s dictatorship fell in 1998, bringing free elections to the archipelago, and even an independence referendum in East Timor, which was itself invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and faced similar, bloody oppression.

It turned out to be false hope for West Papua.

“It looked as though an independence referendum was imminent but the new Indonesian government became incredibly scared of losing West Papua,” said Wenda.

“So [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay was murdered by the Indonesian authorities, and ever since then, the situation in West Papua has only declined. There have been no real attempts to help with human rights or self-determination from any Indonesian government since.”

What has changed, however, has been an even greater investment in resource development, and the continued inflow of migrants from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s two most populous islands, into West Papua to manage resource development.

“Indonesia’s in-country migration is coming close to making Papuans a minority in their traditional homeland,” said Dietz.

Of a population of 3.5 million, only about half are from the hundreds of Melanesian Papuan ethnic groups, with the remainder of the population coming from Javanese, Sundanese, Malay and Madurese migrants, nearly all of whom have arrived since 1969.

Moreover, Indonesia plans to further exploit Papua by expanding palm oil plantations into traditionally-held forested land, and increasing downstream mining revenue by building smelters and other industrial facilities along the coast.

“I’m concerned with how the government uses [all this] tax money,” said Eric Samudra, a Jakarta-based governance researcher. “Is it being used for the good of the people, especially Papuans? The answer, obviously, is no.”

Disengaged public

Despite the news of police killing four protesters in December, many Indonesians remain silent on their government’s occupation of a minority, mostly non-Islamic people who have been waging a low-level insurgency for freedom and justice.

“The problem is most people choose not to do anything about it, while some others believe that nothing can be done,” said Samudra.

However, recent documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing are slowly opening Indonesians eyes to the country’s troubled past, which includes a bloody repression of its nascent Communist Party in the 1960s.

John M. Miller, the National Coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, who publishes a monthly update on the situation in West Papua, believes that while public awareness is growing, it still has a long way to go before real change can occur.

“The silence is beginning to be broken, but a broad understanding isn’t there yet.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to bring greater development and autonomy to Indonesia’s outer islands, and the December killings brought Papua to the forefront of his administration’s efforts.

But questions remain about whether he will really be able to change the Papua situation.

“We believe President Jokowi would like to make a difference in Papua, and he has already made some moves to do that,” said Harsono, pointing to the president’s pledge to visit Papua frequently and listen to local concerns.

“But moving the security and civilian bureaucracy over [West] Papua is not easy.”

That is one reason why many Papuan activists, including Wenda, are tired of empty words and want a referendum.

“We do not believe that any outcome other than full independence for West Papua can ever be a solution.”

On the ground, government policy seems to be going in the opposite direction.

A case in point: the recently-announced smelter, to be operated by Freeport and an Indonesian partner, will be built on traditional Kamoro lands in the Arafura coast, south of Freeport’s existing mining operations in the region.

The smelter was negotiated directly between the Indonesian government and Freeport, with no say or consultation from the local people.

Not surprisingly, locals groups oppose the smelter, which they fear will further pollute their lands and destroy their traditional way of living. If plans move forward, tensions will likely rise.

Dominikus Mitoro, acting chair of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation leadership council, stated publicly that:

“Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems,” and that “no business will run smoothly until it leaves [our lands].”

According to activists, now more than ever, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to the planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it.

But that access seems unlikely for now.

“Indonesia’s leaders appear determined not to lose another part of its far-flung archipelago by having troublesome reporters, international or Indonesian, expose what is happening in Papua,” said Dietz.

Freeport McMoRan declined to comment on this story.

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