I thank the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs for the opportunity to present an update on the West Papua situation. I also thank Deputies for their assistance with Sem Karoba, who is the main reason the West Papua Support Group was founded. I thank in particular, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, for his assistance with a visa application for Sem Karoba.
I wish to update the committee on the situation in the highlands of West Papua. As the Indonesian military is attacking civilians and burning schools in Aceh, in the far west of Indonesia, they are committing similar atrocities at the opposite end of the archipelago, hidden in the remote highlands of West Papua. On 4 April, the military command post in the central highland town of Wamena was attacked by unknown men. A large amount of ammunition and 26 M16 pistols were stolen and two soldiers and one of the attackers were killed. Initially, the TNI, the Indonesian military, accused separatists of the attack. However, it is strongly suspected that the TNI were behind the attack. This echoes the recent shootings of US citizens in Timika in August 2002 as justification for the presence of the military in Papua. Indeed, the army elite corps, the Kopassus, which was recently ordered to leave the province, has now been recalled.
Immediately following the attack, the military arbitrarily arrested and detained up to 30 Papuans. Many were beaten and tortured. While under military arrest Yapenas Murib was killed when he was tied by the neck with a chain to the back of a truck and dragged along a road. Another innocent person, Paulina Itlay, was beaten, mutilated, burned with cigarette butts and raped by military officers. Within days of the attack, 186 army personnel, including some of the notorious Kopassus units and others, were deployed to the region. The TNI began a mass sweeping operation through highland villages, arbitrarily attacking and killing civilians and destroying homes and crops. TNI arbitrarily shot people on sight. They also burned many homes and burned people alive, three schools, a health clinic, plantations and crops. They confiscated farming equipment. Many people were arbitrarily beaten and questioned regarding the attack on the military command in Wamena.
In conducting their operations, the army used East Timor style pro-Jakarta militia, which consists of 50 local people. As a result of these TNI operations approximately 1,000 people, mostly from Kwiyawagi, have been forced to flee their homes and are now hiding in the forest. The current situation is that many of the villages remain under military control and occupation. The villagers remain in the forest too scared to return to their homes. They have no access to food, are exposed to extreme conditions and are experiencing widespread starvation. They are unable to return to their crops as those that are not destroyed are guarded by military officers who shoot people on sight.
Already a number of adults have died due to starvation and exposure. The military has closed off the area and is refusing access to the churches, humanitarian aid and human rights workers. This type of disproportionate retaliation by the military in response to alleged separatist attacks that target the innocent civilian population is a regular tactic which has been experienced by the people of West Papua since the beginning of Indonesian occupation in 1963.
The atrocities reported here form part of a wider pattern being seen across Indonesia at the moment. Since Megawati came to power the role of the military has become ever more dangerous in particular in the regions of West Papua and Aceh. As commented by John Rumbiak, supervisor of the West Papua Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy: "West Papua and Aceh are becoming political commodities in the Indonesian military's attempts to restore their control over the politics in Indonesia to the levels they enjoyed during Suharto's regime."
In the light of this, those gathered recently at the fourth international solidarity meeting for West Papua in Brussels made the following demands. They called on the Indonesian military to withdraw immediately from the highland region of West Papua and allow human rights workers, church groups and most importantly humanitarian aid into the area. They urged the international community to place pressure on Indonesia to stop military operations in West Papua and to enter into peaceful dialogue with the Papuan community out of respect for the land of peace agreement approved by all Papuan groups and the police force.
In the light of recent reports of weapons and equipment sold by the UK, Germany and the Netherlands to Indonesia being used in Aceh and Papua, they urge the international community to enforce military sanctions against Indonesia for its illegal attacks on the civilian population in these provinces. They also pointed out that the root cause of conflict in West Papua derives from the denial of the original right of self-determination in particular the fraudulent 1969 "Act of Free Choice". They urge the international community to call on the UN to review its role in the act as a step towards resolving the problems in West Papua.
We have outlined some areas of assistance. First, we request the Irish Government to write to Kofi Annan requesting that he instigate a review of the UN's conduct in relation to the 1969 "Act of Free Choice". Second, there should be a fact finding mission to West Papua. Because there have been few or no fact finding missions into the area, the Indonesian Government can act without any international knowledge of what is going on except from the support groups the committee is hearing from. Third, with regard to the West Papuan highland area, Wamena, we request the Irish Government to do what it can to put pressure on the Indonesian military to withdraw immediately from the area and allow humanitarian aid into the area. Fourth, in relation to refugees in PNG, Papua New Guinea, we request the Irish Government to call on the UNHCR and the PNG, Australian and Indonesian governments to treat all West Papuan border crossers as legitimate asylum seekers and to give them full rights of refugees as laid out in the UNHCR 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol.
Fifth, on military sanctions, we request the Irish Government to become a signatory to the call and do what it can to put pressure on governments to implement military sanctions. With regard to impunity, we request the Irish Government to do whatever is in its powers to ensure the correct people are tried for these crimes and Indonesia conducts credible investigations and prosecutions according to international standards of justice and fairness. This has not happened in the past. The trial for the recent assassination of Theys Eluay, chairperson of a praesidium council, was recently completed and only low ranking officers were found guilty. Obviously they had been given orders by senior officials and nothing has been done about this. Finally, we request that the Irish Government look favourably on West Papuans wishing to stay in this country.