Papua, Jubi — The long-simmering armed conflict between Indonesia’s military and Papuans seeking independence includes indigenous teenagers and boys who appear barely adolescent, The Associated Press has found, highlighting how Indonesia’s heavy-handed attempts to extinguish the movement have produced a new generation of fighters.
The West Papua Liberation Army, which has fought Indonesian control in the easternmost region since the early 1960s, and Papuans who peacefully advocate independence acknowledge that youngsters are involved in the conflict. But they also describe them as willing participants who fight against the Indonesian state because of military operations in Papua.
International law defines a child as under 18 years old and the recruitment and use of children under 15 for military purposes is a war crime under the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Nearly 170 countries including Indonesia have ratified a U.N. treaty that obliges governments to stop military recruitment of anyone under 18 and to work toward ending the military exploitation of children by state and non-state armed groups.
Sebby Sambom, a Liberation Army spokesman who lives in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, acknowledged that combatants include people under 18, describing it as part of West Papua’s history and struggle for independence.
The Papuan fighters have never been well armed but have battled Indonesia since it took control of the mineral-rich region from the Dutch in 1962. Papuans, who had declared their independence the year before, see Indonesians as invaders who cemented control with a sham referendum at the end of the 1960s.
For the Indonesian government, Papua is a rich prize endowed with mineral resources it says it will never give up. Officials say the territory is rightfully Indonesia’s under international law because it was part of the Dutch East Indies empire that is the basis for Indonesia’s modern borders.
The existence of child soldiers “is a sign that the West Papuan conflict is far more serious than the world acknowledges,” said Veronica Koman, a human rights lawyer who has frequently called attention to alleged police and military abuses in the region.
“West Papua needs urgent international intervention, because child soldiers are themselves victims. The Indonesian government’s security approach has created an intractable conflict by brutalizing generation after generation of West Papuans,” she said.
A photo taken in May by a Liberation Army member in the Nduga area of the central highlands in Papua shows four males who appear to range in age from pre-teen to adolescent, with four older men also the same group, all holding military-style weapons.
A video recorded by the independence fighters in the same area earlier this year shows some of the same boys, one holding a rifle, and other possible adolescents standing at attention among a group of about 40 armed men who had assembled to hear a speech about their military victories since 2017.
Also in the video is Ekianus Kogeya, who turned 19 in May and is described by the Liberation Army as a brigadier general and its commander in the Nduga area, after taking over from his father Silas Elmin Kogeya, who reportedly died several years ago.
It is unclear how many teens are directly involved in the conflict or what specific roles they play, but with several hotspots it could be at least dozens.
Victor Mambor, editor of Papuan news site Tabloid Jubi, told AP he was unexpectedly contacted by a group of 20 fighters in January while reporting on the humanitarian crisis in Nduga. Thousands of civilians have been displaced by a security crackdown following a December attack that killed 19 construction workers. The group was three-quarters teenage boys, some 15-16 years old, he said.
“This group didn’t speak too much. They are only talking about ‘We are not criminals, not terrorists, we fight for our people,’” he said.
“Those teenagers have no hope in their own land,” Mambor said. “There is no job for them if they finish school. Many soldiers in their villages. Maybe their only hope to exist is to hold a weapon.”
Groups campaigning to end the use of child soldiers say they are sometimes forcibly recruited but can also join militaries and armed groups because of cultural pressures, for protection or money to escape desperate poverty. Children in conflicts, whether as combatants or in other roles such as porters, face a high risk of being abused, killed or maimed and those that survive can suffer profound psychological and social problems.
Papua is not mentioned in the U.N. secretary-general’s yearly report on states and groups using child soldiers, and international awareness of the situation in Papua is low. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign journalists and organizations operating in the region has kept it mostly hidden from world attention. Rights groups criticize the U.N.’s list for being politicized and incomplete.
Papua makes up nearly a quarter of Indonesia’s land area and is rich in tropical forests and mineral resources including one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines. Even so, vast areas remain outside of Indonesian control due to being remote, mountainous and thickly jungled.
An influx of migrants from other parts of Indonesia has made Papuans an economically and politically marginalized minority in some lowland areas, adding fuel to the conflict. But highland areas about the size of Britain are populated mainly by Papuans.
Attempts to break up that jungled fortress with the construction of a trans-Papua highway have become a new flashpoint in the conflict. The highway looms as an existential threat for Papuans already reeling from the impact of high infant mortality, bouts of famine, the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS and an unknown number of deaths from Indonesian military campaigns since the 1960s.
Papuan activists fear the highway will result not in economic development but in the total dispossession of their land.
Sambom, who described youngsters involved with the Liberation Army as “children” and “young men,” said children of independence fighters grow up in the jungle, have “bitter experiences due to brutal (Indonesian) military operations” and automatically become fighters.
“This situation applies in all of the central highlands of Papua, which are areas of war conflict,” he said in an email. “They grow up and become Papuan freedom fighters, namely continuing the struggle of their parents.”
In a telephone interview, he didn’t answer questions about the number of teenage or child combatants or their specific roles in the conflict. He said the children of Papuan fighters don’t attend school, partly because they fear they’ll be kidnapped or killed by the Indonesian military.
The Indonesian military spokesman in Papua, Muhammad Aidi, said Papuan fighters killed by Indonesian forces are mostly 20-40 years old. He said he had not seen any direct evidence of child combatants but in some remote areas children aspired to join the West Papua Liberation Army.
“If we ask some children in the remote region of Mapenduma about their dreams in the future, their answer is to become an OPM (Free Papua Organization) fighter,” he said. “Because they don’t know the outside world.”
He said anyone under 18 who attacked Indonesian security forces with arms would not be spared.
“The threat is the same as adults who can kill us with their guns,” he said. (Stephen Wright, The Associated Press)
A tragic story from Deiyai Regent Office
Jayapura, Jubi – A rally to protest racism against West Papuans in front of the Deiyai Regent Office on Wednesday, 28 August 2019, turned to a tragedy. A local parliament member Alfret Pakage told Jubi about the tragic story.
The story began when a young man called Yustimus Takimas died in a car crash involving an Indonesian soldier. His death triggered a mass rampage that ended with the police’s gunshot.
“I don’t have an idea about what was happening at the Regent Office’s backyard because I was standing at the side door watching people coming. After the car accident that killed young Takimai, people killed a soldier who was in the car. Then, all young men joined the crowd. Some entered through the front while others from the back via BKD Office. At that time the joint security force stood at the corner of the Regent Office. I was there too facing the BKD Office,” Pakage told Jubi by phone on Wednesday, (11/9/2019).
Furthermore, he said the mob threw stones to the soldiers, and they responded it with tear gas shots. However, when they found out a soldier killed, they threw bullets against the crowd. “I told the Crime and Investigation Department Chief of Paniai Police to hold. It happened when they (security force) knew a soldier died. They shot their guns to the people,” he said.
Then, the Military District Commandant immediately came out of his office located across the street in front of the Regent Office. “He shouted ‘my soldier is dead. Where’s the Regent? He must be responsible for this. The soldiers took their gun out. Brimob personnel were also there,” he said.
Pakage was alone at the scene, while the regent, deputy regent, local parliament members and all government officials already left their office. The police step on the body of the dead victim lying under the flagpole at the office’s front yard.
“I shouted at them to stop.” While he was confused about how to stop it, he also could not do anything because he was alone and under gun threat.
“I saw people died lying under the flagpole. It’s just me. I was alone. When the soldiers found out that people taken away their guns, they prevented me from being a mediator. They even pointed their guns against me and said ‘you want to back up or not? If not, you’ll be responsible for this’. After that, I backed up. But I still told them not be overwhelming,” he said.
Furthermore, according to Pakage, he moved to a kiosk opposite the Regent Office to join some police officers of Mee origin. It was only 17:12 but already so quiet, and nobody dared to pass. He then saw the ambulance from Deiyai Public Hospital going to the scene.
“I saw the ambulance coming from Deiyai Public Hospital to collect West Papuans who injured and fell because of the shooting. But the police came to block the car, pulled out the victims and took the ambulance’s key. They put their injured friends (soldiers), sent both driver and medical workers home. Then ambulance went to Paniai and left the injured West Papuans,” he said.
It was getting late, so he hurried to go home. He reminded himself that he must keep safe from the danger. Of returning home, he observed that Waghete became so quiet. Only found the security forces standing along the street from the Regent Office to Waghete II until the airport compound.
On the next day, Thursday (29/8/2019), he returned to the scene to check whether the dead bodies are still there or taken to the hospital.
“I only saw the soldiers standing along the street. I didn’t meet any residents. First of all, I checked the Deiyai Public Hospital, but the gate was locked and no activities there. I came inside knocking the door but no one there. So, I went to the scene to check whether the victims are still there or not. So I parked my vehicle at the entrance of the Regent’s office. Suddenly, the joint security force came investigating me with anger.
“They asked, ‘where are our guns?’ I told them I am also a part of this country. Those weapons are the state’s tools; I try to find those losing guns. However, the victims were not there anymore. So I went to Damabagata, Tigi Timur sub-district because I heard from someone that they keep the weapons there. At that time, the Military District Commandant was well-equipped guarding at the intersection of Waghete, Dogiyai and Paniai,” he said.
He continued the story by saying that the Paniai Police then asked him to come to their office as a witness. “At that time, the police acted without thinking. It was a big mistake. They examined me as a witness at the regency police station,” he said.
Meanwhile, Father Santon Tekege Pr said the investigation of the Secretariat of Peace and Justice (SKP) of Paniai Dean – Timika Diocese concludes that a car accident involving a soldier that caused the death of Yustinus Takimai triggered this shooting incident.
“As a result of the gunfire and tear gas shots, seven civilians were dead, while 43 people injured with both minor and serious injuries,” said Father Santon. (*)
Reporter: Abeth You
Editor: Pipit Maizier
JDP: Government must arrange the customary-based dialogue in Papua
Jayapura, Jubi – A dialogue on Papua should represent the people of Papua, Father Jhon Bunay Pr, the Coordinator for Papua Peace Networks (JDP), told reporters in a press conference held in Jayapura on 7 September 2019.
“The dialogue should conduct in seven Papuan territories, namely Mamta, Anim Ha, Lapago, Meepago, Saireri, Domberai and Bomberai and involve each representative of the central government, military and police, liberation army, Papuans living in Papua, Papuans domicile outside of Papua, other residents of Papua, investors and mass media,” he said.
Furthermore, he emphasises that the involvement of indigenous representatives in the dialogue is crucial. He hopes the government does not initiate the discussion with Papuans from outside of Papua because it could make problems difficult to solve.
“We are the same. We are brothers, no suspicion. There shouldn’t be the police or military’s spies or those who have no concern come in this dialogue. It’s important to ensure that everyone is free to express their feeling and thought, and we’ll find a solution together,” he said.
He also reminds the government to not organising the dialogue in the form of a seminar. It would not work in terms of producing a satisfactory result for everyone. “We will never find a real solution (through seminar); the result is null. Instead, we must invite local peoples to speak,” he said.
Moreover, he says the dialogue between Jakarta and Papua would never happen due to the high suspicions amongst stakeholders. “Perhaps we are too suspicious of each other. Talking about Papua’s issues should not be done with another approach, because the dialogue is the best approach,” he said.
Therefore, he said the relevant stakeholders must sit together to recover painful and bitter memories during the long conflict that occurred in Papua, including to put suspicious away.
“We must do reconciliation in the seven Papuan territories with involving all relevant stakeholders in Papua. Meanwhile, other components such as military and police, liberation army, Papuans from inside and outside of Papua, other residents of Papua, and mass media must attend (and involved in the process of) in the reconciliation,” he said.
Therefore, the process of reconciliation will turn out to be a transformation point for Papua to plan the best future for Papua. He also reminds that instead of discussing Papua in or inside Indonesia, it is more important to talk about the indigenous rights in Papua, and the welfare of all indigenous Papuans.
“I believe that the dialogue will solve all the problems from the past. Using guns, arresting and putting people in jail would not solve the problem. Instead, it makes it worse,” he says.
Meanwhile, JDP Deputy Daniel Randongkir said authorities must prioritise the principles of human rights and justice. “Once again, for JDP, the dialogue is the only way to solve the problem in Papua with rights and pure. Therefore it can be solved on behalf of justice and dignity,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
ULMWP: Military and mass organisation in Surabaya are responsible for demonstration waves in Papua
Jayapura, Jubi – Buchtar Tabuni, the Chairman of Legislative Committee of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), declined that ULMWP was behind the mass protests and rampages in Papua. Instead, he accused the Indonesian military, and local mob committed in persecution and racism against Papuan students in Surabaya are responsible for these incidents.
“Those who should be responsible for these protests and rampages in Papua are soldiers, police officers, municipal police officers and the local mob in Surabaya. Those who attacked Papuan students and called them ‘monkeys’ have triggered demonstrations occurred in Papua,” he told Jubi on Sunday (8/9/2019) in Waena, Jayapura.
He further said that for the couple last weeks, the Indonesian Government has attempted to build a discourse to put the ULMWP as the actor behind the anti-racism movements in Papua. “The Indonesian government is panic, terrifying in addressing the issue of free Papua that currently becomes a headline in the rest of the world thanks to the South Pacific countries,” he said.
He also said the way military and police in addressing the outrage speared amongst Papuans is not right. Instead of acting promptly, the government denied the persecution and racism against Papuan students in Surabaya. They even deployed more soldiers to Papua. “ULMWP considers the current situation is similar to what had happened in Timor Lester ahead to their independence,” he said.
Moreover, Tabuni stated the struggle for a referendum is open for everyone in Papua, including the migrants. He said the migrants have two options to response the growing demand of referendum amongst Papuans. “First, if they want to stay, they must declare their support to referendum for West Papua, just like indigenous Papuans did. Second, if they want to return to their hometowns, they must go nicely, like Papuans student currently did,” he said.
Separately, Victor Yeimo, the Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), said Papuan people are not ‘animals’. They are not easy to provoke by the ULMWP, KNPB, Veronika Koman or Benny Wenda. People go to the street because they want to fight against colonialism.
“The Indonesian Government still perceive Papuans as sub-human (half-animal) who easy to provoke. Up to now they always blame on particular organisations or certain people as the actors. Just asks Papuans whether they go to the street because of being provoked by KNPB? Veronica Koman? Benny Wenda? The answer is not,” he said. (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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