29 Oct 2011

International pressure grows for solution to unrest in Papua

10:21 am on 29 October 2011

International pressure is mounting for Indonesia to address growing unrest and violence in its Papua region.

The call comes after a week in which a Police Commander in West Papua province was killed, and three more people were shot near the Freeport mine in Timika, bringing the death toll during an ongoing strike there to five.

It comes a week after at least five Papuans were killed and many more injured when Indonesian security forces broke up the Third Papuan People's Congress which had declared independence.

Johnny Blades reports

Among the congress delegates remaining in police custody, facing charges of treason is Forkorus Yaboisembut for proclaiming an independent West Papua state.

The declaration triggered a swift response by the hundreds of Indonesian security forces deployed at the congress.

The United States Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin says the forces committed serious violations.

"I'm very very concerned that the meeting that was held amongst the West papuan people in terms of trying to... I guess out of frustration, you now the leaders got so tired where they weren't even allowed to dialogue with the Indonesian government to talk about the Special Autonomy Law that was passed over ten years ago and has never really been implemented by the Indonesian government. So out of all this, the Indonesian government sent in soldiers and security forces."

It's not just American lawmakers applying pressure for change in Papua.

Australian Greens senator Richard Di Natale has urged his government to send a fact-finding mission to Papua and to immediately suspend all support for the Indonesian military.

The convener of a New Zealand parliamentary support group for West Papua, MP Catherine Delahunty, says Wellington should review its role in training Indonesian police in Papua.

Show some leadership as we have done in places like Bougainville, and help broker a conversation about ending the injustices, the human rights abuses and the deaths because yes there needs to be a democratic police force in West Papua but we're a long way from that, until we have a peace process and a recognition of the rights of the people of West Papua.

Meanwhile, violence continues to plague Freeport's mine where an ongoing strike by thousands of employees has forced the company to declare force majeure on shipments from the mine.

Freeport is Indonesia's largest corporate tax payer and it has never faced such major industrial trouble in its long history in Papua.

A commodities analyst says the market impact of industrial action will be limited if the dispute is resolved quickly.

Bart Melek from TD Securities says the longer production stays offline the tighter the market will get.

But in an environment where demand is seen to be somewhat better or at least expectations are somewhat better than they were before and at the same time you get supply disruptions, one could say with a fairly high level of comfort that price pressures are to the upside because of that.

A cultural anthropologist focussing on West Papua Eben Kirksey from City University of New York says that many Papuans oppose the mine because its history is linked to their region's incorporation into Indonesia.

He says the labour dispute has galvanised employees from other parts of the archipelago.

There's both an amazing alliance that has emerged there but also there are broader issues: under the Special Autonomy programme, the lion's share of revenue generated by Freeport is supposed to hit the ground back in West Papua. But even though West Papua is the biggest province of Indonesia, the most resource rich - in addition to gold and copper, they have timber, natural gas - the fact of the matter is that despite all these resources West Papua remains poor; West Papuans are the poorest people in Indonesia.

Eben Kirksey says the legality of the entire Freeport operation in Papua is uncertain given the agreement under which the company came to develop the Grasberg was signed with Indonesia before it had legally taken over the territory of Papua.

However the strike which began in mid-September has made the Indonesian public more sensitive towards the Papuans situation.

I think there's great potential to negotiate a much more fair just and fair contract of work that protects labour rights, and protects the environment, and that also isn't perpetuating post-colonial inequalities. I think a lot of Indonesians and West Papuans alike feel very unhappy that their resources are being sucked away, and that they are channeling a lot of profits into corporate boardrooms and portfolios of distant stockholders but are not directly reaping many of the benefits themselves.

Meanwhile, rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for investigations into violence in Papua.

Although the Indonesia Human Rights Commission is said to be looking at the violence at the Congress, international disquiet over the trouble in Papua is demanding more.