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)
ULMWP activists in Papua express gratitude to Oxford City Council
Jayapura, Jubi – Simon B Daby, a member of the Central Board Committee of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), said that West Papuans appreciate the Oxford City Council for granting the Freedom of Oxford” award to the Chairman of ULMWP Benny Wenda. Further, he said this award proves that the international community paid attention towards the efforts of the ULMWP and Wenda in fighting for Papuan self-determination.
The Freedom of Oxford is the highest honour given by the City of Oxford to people who have a significant impact on society. Benny Wenda is an internationally recognized diplomat and leader for the West Papua free movement. Since being granted political asylum in England in 2002, Wenda has fought tirelessly for the self-determination of West Papuans from his campaign office in Oxford.
Moreover, Simon B Dabby stated that this award is highly essential for all the people of West Papua. “We, the people of West Papua, congratulate Benny Wenda who received this award for his efforts to voice the calls of West Papuans for their right of self-determination to the international community,” said Daby on Wednesday (17/4/2019).
Daby continued to say that Mr Wenda has consistently declared injustice and human rights violations in West Papua since 1961 and campaigned for the right of self-determination for West Papuan. “Through this momentum, the people in West Papua convey to all state members of the United Nation to support their right of self-determination,” said Daby.
He also said the demand of West Papuan for self-determination aligned with the Indonesian Constitution 1945 in which stated in the first paragraph of the Preamble, “whereas independence is the inalienable right of all nations.” It is also following the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 1541 (XV) of 1960. The resolution stated that if a region has a geographical location and cultural ethics that are separate and different from its ruling and administrative state, this region is entitled to claim its right of self-determination.
Meanwhile, a member of the Legislative Committee of ULMWP for Anim Ha region, Pangkrasia Yeem, expressed his gratitude to the Oxford City Council for this award. He said the Freedom of Oxford award for Benny Wenda is a special gift for the Papuan people.
Furthermore, he asks all West Papuans to be united in advocating the ULMWP’s efforts for West Papuan self-determination. “With our support to ULMWP, we (will) establish our state as an independent and sovereign nation,” said Yeem on Sunday (14/7/2019). (*)
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo
Editor: Pipit Maizier
23 extra-judicial killings in West Papua last year – rights group
Papua, Jubi – A human rights group advocating for West Papuans in Indonesia says there were more than 20 extra-judicial killings by the military there last year.
Indonesian soldiers participate in a major military jungle warfare exercise in Poso, in central Sulawesi island, on March 31, 2015.
But the military has dismissed the findings, which come during an escalating conflict in Papua’s Highlands as rebels wage war on the state.
The International Coalition for Papua has documented 23 killings it claimed happened at the hands of Indonesia’s military in 2018.
The recently-released list ranges from bullet wounds to being burned alive, mostly in the troubled Central Highlands.
The rights group is demanding Indonesia launch independent investigations into all the cases, warning more deaths have been reported this year.
But a military spokesperson, Muhammad Aidi, said the report is a hoax and that some victims died from tribal violence.
He said others were rebels who died in gunfights after launching attacks on soldiers. (*)
West Papuan independence group urges primacy of TPNPB
Papua, Jubi – There’s strong opposition in West Papua to a reconfiguration of military forces in the struggle for independence from Indonesia.
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua, led by mainly exiled Papuan. claims it’s taking political leadership of a new unified military force, the West Papua Army.
The ULMWP last week said the Army was a united front between the West Papua Liberation Army, or TPNPB, and two smaller fighting forces.
Representatives of the TPNPB, and the broader Free Papua Movement, have since claimed they do not support thie unification anounced in the ‘Vanimo Border Declaration’.
This has been echoed by the West Papua National Committee, or KNPB, a pro-independence organisation focussed on peaceful campaigning.
Its international spokesman Victor Yeimo spoke to Johnny Blades about their concerns.
Victor Yeimo: We still struggle for independence, for our liberation. We need a liberation army. As you know, historically, this organisation (TPNPB) exist since 1961 and until today they exist, fighting on the ground. And the two other ones (the West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) separated from TPNPB. But in reality as West Papuans know, as well as colonial (power) knows, these two organisations never have an action on the ground. It’s not a competition between one organisation and another organisation, but in the unity, to liberate the West Papuan demand for self-determination, to go for our goal of freedom, we need one military organisation only. We don’t need many organisations. It wil make confusion in west Papua people. and it will make it difficult for us to make a solution; And it’s very dangerous for the guerillas and all the soldiers of the West Papua army on the ground because if there are three commands, three shystems going on in the ground, it will be difficult, because it will create problems within our military, and it will confuse. How can we attack the enemy through three systems of military organisations? In the revolution history, as you know, we need only one organisation of military.
Johnny Blades: But isn’t that what the ULMWP is trying to achieve, that they are all uniting?
Victor Yeimo: There are concerns in the constitution of the OPM (Free Papua Movement). As you know on the 1st of July 1971 when OPM declared proclamation of independence of the republic of West Papua, they have their own constitution. And this military, TPNPB, is under the constitution of the proclamation. Yes, it is important for us to unite, but in a military… they (West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) already split from the main organisation, the TPNPB. So I think now, in reality, the people of West Papua, we want to be free. So please if you want to unite, don’t degradate the existing organisation, the TPNPB, because today as you know on the ground TPNPB is still fighting with arms on the ground.
Johnny Blades: You’re saying that everything should be done under the auspices of the TPNPB, that it shouldn’t be a new united command; you’re saying it should be done under the rules and the constitution of the TPNPB because that’s the main military?
Victor Yeimo: Yes, the military has its own discipline of military. The constitution is something that we can discuss and unite. But the military is a tool for revolution. We need only one military and one discipline. So if they (the West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army) if they have their own discipline of military, please bring it to the TPNPB. we have to strengthen the exist one. So then, what we want… we have one goal. So please use the existing one as our strength to attack the enemy. That’s the solution for KNPB. We are supporting the ULMWP but we encourage them to only recognise the TPNPB as the one and only military defence.
Johnny Blades: There’s been some criticism from people in the OPM, or TPNPB, about the way this (declaration) has been done. What do you think about the reaction?
Victor Yeimo: Yes, in the ground the reaction is negative. The other headquarters of each commander, like in Lanny Jaya, also in Puncak Jaya, also in Paniai, also in Yahukimo, also in Nduga, they are not involved in this declaration. So I believe that they are opposed to that declaration.
Johnny Blades: The KNPB has generally been a peaceful organisation. What do you believe in, does the military have a role in the struggle?
Victor Yeimo: Yes we support them in resistance as a defence force, as they have the same aim: to go for self-determination. But we have a different method. We organise people in West Papua through the peaceful means (including civil resistance and demonstrations). Until today KNPB believe in peaceful means. We don’t even hope the military action will give more influence inside our struggle because today people around the world, the solidarity just becomes bigger and bigger because our peaceful action in the ground. But it will not stop them fighting, because this is the reality in every struggle, a liberation army. We want our own military. It’s something that always happens in every struggle. So we want them to fight in accordance to their method.
Johnny Blades: The political leadership of the struggle, is it accurate to say that (ULMWP chairman) Benny Wenda is the head of that movement?
Victor Yeimo: I say that ULMWP should become co-ordinating body, not become a state or acting like a state. because we have too many factions and too many history. So we want today the organisations can unite all of the factions, all of the movements in West Papua through the co-ordination mechanism… like three years ago (at ULMWP’s inception). This is something important. We will have our own nation state after independence. So what we want today is to unite, co-ordinating the agenda and organisation, everything we can discuss. So, it’s not like now, everything comes from outside, from Benny Wenda, from outside. It’s not good for the unity. It will kill the unity because in our history there are too many people claiming they are the president, who claimed they have their own constitution and everything. We don’t want that. What we want today is freedom from Indonesian occupation. (*)
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