8 Apr 2020

Call for NZ police help in probing West Papua killing

4:54 pm on 8 April 2020

An Indonesian human rights expert has called for New Zealand police help after a deadly attack on mine company staff in West Papua.

Andreas Harsono

Andreas Harsono Photo: Human Rights Watch

Last week's shooting attack at PT Freeport Indonesia's offices in the leafy town of Kuala Kencana near Timika left a New Zealander dead and two other employees seriously injured.

A faction of the pro-independence West Papua Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack, with police saying the shooters immediately fled to the surrounding forest.

The Liberation Army has made no secret that it is targeting the operations of the Freeport mine, a major source of revenue for Jakarta, in its ongoing war against the Indonesian state.

The mine at Mt Grasberg has been a focal point for armed conflict for many years. There have been dozens of killings in and around infrastructure related to Freeport's operations in Mimika regency over the past two decades.

Human Rights Watch's Andreas Harsono said that in the vast majority of these cases, no one was held to account in the justice system.

Mr Harsono previously conducted extensive research into one high profile case that did eventually make it the courts - the 2002 killing of three teachers, including two Americans, along the road to Freeport's mine.

"Indonesian police arrested seven Papuans They were forced to confess, tried swiftly in Jakarta and sentenced to between eighteen months to life imprisonment," Mr Harsono explained.

"Some Indonesian soldiers who allegedly sold the bullets (used in the attack) and were present near the killing site were unfortunately not questioned."

The scene of the shooting in West Papua

The scene of the shooting in West Papua Photo: Indonesia Police

In Mr Harsono's view, New Zealand police should offer to help Indonesian investigators with a probe into last week's deadly attack.

"Criminal investigation in a place as wild, remote and murky as Timika, with numerous competing interests, need a professional, investigative team," he said.

"Many people have body guards, and many armed gangs with their respective ethnic affiliation operate in Timika."

Mr Harsono said in addition, around 3,000 Indonesian soldiers were hired by Freeport itself to provide security for its local operations.

Among this menagerie of security forces interests in Mimika, some groups are trying to undermine others or justify their own presence, especially when business interests or lucrative contracts are at stake.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand police told RNZ Pacific it could not comment on investigations outside of its jurisdiction.

Yet without an independent investigation, the likelihood is that those who killed 57-year old New Zealander Graeme Thomas Wall last week in Kuala Kencana will escape justice.

 Freeport security personnel looking on at the Freeport McMoRan's Grasberg mining complex, one of the world's biggest gold and copper mines, located in Indonesia's remote eastern Papua province.

Freeport security personnel looking on at the Freeport McMoRan's Grasberg mining complex, one of the world's biggest gold and copper mines, located in Indonesia's remote eastern Papua province. Photo: AFP PHOTO / OLIVIA RONDONUWU

However, a member of Papua's regional parliament, Laurenzus Kadepa, said Indonesia's government should allow an independent probe with involvement of international human rights experts, the United Nations and also New Zealand.

Mr Kadepa is concerned that, left to local police, there will be no clarity about how the attack was staged, nor justice served, as with previous deadly attacks in the Freeport mine area over the years.

Indonesia's military and police have been engaged in ongoing conflict with the Liberation Army's guerilla fighters since the latter escalated its attacks on security forces in 2018 in the central Highlands region of Papua province.

Indonesia's military forces are conducting ongoing operations in the region to hunt down the Liberation Army's fighters, whom police routinely describe as an armed criminal gang.

Not all factions of the Liberation Army are on the same page - the West Papuan independence movement's fractures are perhaps their deepest among the armed indigenous guerilla forces.

"Violence in the Freeport area is historically always connected to the rivalries among these Papuan groups plus the divide-and-rule strategy of the Indonesian military," Mr Harsono said.

Socratez Yoman

Socratez Yoman Photo: RNZ

Meanwhile, the President of the Alliance of West Papuan Baptist Churches, Reverend Socratez Yoman, said he was suspicious about the attack, given the history of killings in the area, and the fact that this latest edition took place in an area tightly guarded by Indonesian security forces.

According to him, there are interests who seek to discredit the West Papuan independence movement in the eyes of the international community.

"Because we know, we realise that the West Papua struggle, led by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, is a peaceful way, a dignified way, not just violence."

Furthermore, Reverend Yoman suggested that the killing of a New Zealander could even have been by design to erode support in New Zealand for West Papuan independence aims.

"New Zealand citizens strongly support West Papuan peace struggle about human rights abuses," he said.

Mr Harsono said while killings in the region around Freeport were not uncommon, the killing of foreigners was.

But even if international assistance with an investigation transpires, history provides a less than encouraging sign for full justice.

Because Americans were killed in the 2002 attack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved in the case. Yet human rights groups say the FBI was not given access to all relevant information, which might explain the questionable convictions that followed.

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