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)
Hundreds of people were detained in Papua ahead to 1 December
Jayapura, Jubi – Around 112 people were arrested by police in several towns of Papua and Papua Barat provinces within a week ahead to 1 December 2019 under the treason article concerning the Morning Star flag-raising.
Five days before 1 December which commemorated as the Papuan political manifesto by Papuans, a young Papuan activist Pilipus Robaha arrested by police in his house on 26 November 2019. The police questioned him in association with a letter posting on social media appealing people to attend the commemoration worship of 1 December at Trikora Square. Lack of evidence to accuse his involvement connected to the report, the police released him the next day.
A day after his arrest, the police detained eight people in Manokwari at around 3 in the afternoon of local time. The Regional Police Chief of Papua Barat Province, Brigadier General Herry Rudolf Nahak, said during the police seized twenty-nine big-sized Morning Star flags, some posters and pamphlets and two cars.
“During the interrogation, these eight people admitted that they participated in the event after reading the pamphlet about a rally at Borasi Square, Manokwari on Wednesday morning,” said the police chief.
Until Thursday (5/12/2019), they are still under the custody of Manokwari Police. So far, the police declared none of these eight persons named suspects. However, the police have charged seven detainees under the treason article, according to Yan Warinussy, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Research, Study and Development Study (LP3BH) Manokwari. Meanwhile, another one only named as a witness.
Another arrest occurred in Sentani City of Jayapura Regency. The police detained thirty-four people on Saturday evening (30/11/2019) while marching towards Trikora Square, Abepura to participate in a flag-raising ceremony. The police also accused them as the members of the West Papuan National Liberation Army from Demta sub-district and Sarmi Regency after finding evidence of their membership cards.
Jayapura Police Chief Adjunct Commissionaire Victor Makbon said “We already released fourteen of them, but twenty people have named suspects. We charged six of them under the Emergency Law on the possession of sharp weapons and the Treason Article 106 and Article 2 verse (1) of the Criminal Code.”
In the meantime, there are 13 people charged under the Treason Article 106 of the Criminal Code, while one also charged under the Treason Article 106 and Article 160 on incitement.
Regarding this case, Yohanis Mambrasaar, a lawyer from Papua Human Rights Advocates Association (PAHAM), confirmed that the report on twenty people charged for treason. Currently, he said PAHAM is preparing the power of attorney to provide legal assistance for detainees.
Separately, the police arrested four students at Gembala Baik Church in Abepura on Sunday Morning. Marvin Yobe, Desepianus Dumupa, Paul Halapok and Devion Tekege wore the Papuan highland traditional clothes and pained their bodies with the Morning Star pattern. They also brought the Morning Star flags to the Church during the worship time.
The arrested student Desepianus Dumupa said the purpose of their act was to ask God for freedom. “Our purpose carrying the flag in the worship was to ask God’s help, ask Him to liberate our nation,” said Dumupa.
However, the police then released these four students after being interrogated until 1 morning on Monday. They first questioned at Abepura Police Headquarters, then at Jayapura Police Headquarters after the police had not found any evidence at their accommodation.
By Monday morning, the police called Father James Kosay who led the worship at Gembala Baik Church on 1 December to question related to the arrest of four students. “At the time of arrest, there were twenty police officers, both without and with uniform, entered the church during the worship that made people panic,” said Father James.
A day before the incident in Gembala Baik Church, the police also called Markus Haluk, the Executive Director of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in connection with The Call for Communal Worship on 1 December 2019. The police interrogated Haluk with twenty-nine questions for six hours.
Another detain also occurred in Fakfak. The local police of Fakfak arrested 54 people in Warpa, Pikpik and Mabuni-Buni villages of Kayauni sub-district at around 3 in the afternoon on Sunday (1/12/2019). The police accused them intending to raise the Morning Star flag at the residence of Fakfak Regent. Also, the police claimed the fifty-four detainees as the members of TPNPB after finding their membership cards during the arrest.
Fakfak Police Chief Ary Nyoto Setiawan said that the Morning Star flag was already raised in Warpa village by twenty-three people with sharp weapons. When the arrest took place, according to the chief, the police also found the amount of IDR 88 million on the scene.
“The money was about to send to their highest rank leader in Jayapura,” said the chief.
Based on their investigation, the police has officially named twenty-three people as suspects.
The Recherche and Crime Investigation Chief of Fakfak Police, Misbahul Munir, said, “ These twenty-three people wanted to come to Fakfak to wave the flag at the official residence of Fakfak Regent.“
A picture of the arrest in Fakfak widely spread in social media
A photo of the arrest in Pikpik village of Fakfak raised criticism among Papuan people following its circulation on social media. In the picture, almost naked, some people tied up together and remained sitting by the road.
“The right word for the picture is slavery. Only those who experienced colonialism can do this. They experienced the same oppression before their independence. So, they want to practice the same thing against the oppressed people,“ said Filep Karma to comment on the photo that goes viral on social media.
However, Fakfak Police has not yet confirmed about the picture. So far, the Recherche and Crime Investigation Chief of Fakfak Police has not answered the phone and WhatsApp message to clarify the photograph allegedly describes the arrest in Pikpik village. However, several Fakfak residents confirmed that the circulated photo about the detain in Pikpik village on 1 December 2019 is valid.
“They arrested on 1 (December). A man with white hair body on chess was my classmate, Yance Hegemur,” said a Fakfak resident by phone to confirm the photograph.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Domberai Customary Council Finsen Mayor also believes the same way. “Yes, it was the picture of the incident on 1 December in Fakfak. They transported to Fakfak Police Headquarters in the evening,” said Mayor.
From Tuesday (26/11/2019) to Wednesday (4/12/2019) afternoon, there are 101 people arrested and interrogated by police in connection to 1 December. So far, 82 people are still detained in Fakfak, Manokwari and Sentani, while the rest already released by police. At least 27 people have named suspects under the treason article, in which twenty people in Sentani and other seven in Manowakri.
In the sense of police acts to anticipate 1 December by arresting Papuans, according to Yan Warinussy, it would only worsen the image of the Indonesian Government among Papuans as Papua has a different historical background to other regions in Indonesia. This recognition is implicitly acknowledged the verse e of the Law 21/2001 about the Special Autonomy for Papua.
“1 December should be used as a milestone to create constructive efforts to straighten the history of Papua by the people of Papua and the state for the sake of peace,” said Warinussy.
He further asserted that every social and political movement of Papuan people, which contain different aspirations, should be responded with the kind response and accommodated through peaceful dialogue. (*)
Reporter: Victor Mambor
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Tabi Province, for whom it established?
Jayapura, Jubi – An intellectual youth figure of Tabi Frangklin Wahey said the establishment of new Tabi province does not benefit the people of Tabi.
“This becomes a current big issue for native people in Tabi, and it needs further clarification from a group of regents and mayors who propose new administrative regions. In this sense, I only focus on Tabi region as the capital of Papua Province lay on it. So, I think it is weird if some native Tabi wants a new split regency. I suggest to those who propose this idea to clarify their specific needs and interest behind this,” he said.
As a native Tabi, he questioned why this regional split issue is becoming a critical issue now while did not get any attention during the first administration period.
“I think it is the interest of people who want becoming a governor in Tabi. If you want to be a governor, I suggest that better you provide a good example (to the public) and be prepared to compete (in the election). For the regent and mayor in Tabi region, I ask you to not making this issue complicated because it may disturb the harmony among indigenous Tabi,” he said.
Further, he said politically, the economy and education of indigenous Papuans in Tabi has long been left behind compared to others. If Tabi becomes a new province, it does not make them better. Instead, they will more marginalise.
“We must allow Mr Lukas to run his duty as a current governor and support him for what he has done in Tabi through outstanding development. He has made the region of Tabi a beautiful place. So, I ask the mayor and regent to build good coordination with the governor, provincial parliament and people’s assembly. Because they have authority and capacity to speak on behalf of the public interest in Papua,” he said.
Meanwhile, a native from Tobati Mrs Nonce Hanasbey hopes the government to be more focus on human resources development and local economic empowerment. According to her, it can improve indigenous livelihood and welfare.
“So far, infrastructure development has significantly progressed, and many primary changes have done. It only needs to support indigenous people in using their potential and existing natural resources for assuring these infrastructures benefit for them instead of other groups. (*)
Reporter: Aguz Pabika
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Carrying Morning Star flags in the worship, four students arrested in Church
Jayapura, Jubi – Four students were taken to Abepura Police station while attending Mass at Gembala Baik Catholic Church, Abepura on Sunday (1/12/2019). Wearing the traditional clothes of Papuan highlands, two of them decorated their faces with the pattern of Morning Star.
The four students are Marvin Yobe, Desepianus Dumupa, Paul Halapok and Devion Tekege. “They brought three Morning Star flags,” said Mario, an Abepura resident who was at the worship.
A police officer who not wear uniform at that time stood to arrest the students when they were about to receive the Host, but hold by the congregation asking him to respect the Holly Communion. Then, the police officer took the students out of the Church after seizing their flags.
Among the four, Desepianus Dumupa (26 years old) said their aim bringing the Morning Flags to the Church was to ask God for freedom. “Our purpose coming to the worship with the flags is to ask for help from God. We ask God to give freedom for Papuans,” said Dumupa.
At the meantime, the Director of Legal Aid Institute (LBH) Papua, Emanuel Gobay, said the police took the students to Abepura police station for questioning. During the investigation, Jayapura Police Chief Gustaf Urbunas came and met with the Coalition Team of Papua Legal and Human Rights Advocates who accompanied the four students.
Urbinas stated the four students would be taken to Perumnas III Waena to inspect their accommodation after the examination for searching other evidence. After that, they would go to Jayapura Police Headquarter for further investigation.
“When asked about the legal status of the four students, the police chief said the police still ask their clarification before taking a decision,” said Gobay, the Coordinator of the Coalition team.
However, Gobay continued, after their inspection to Perumnas III, the police did not found any evidence. Then, the police took the four students to Jayapura Headquarters, took their pictures and fingerprints before continuing the interrogation.
The examination continued until 00.59; Monday, 2 December 2019 before the four students were finally released.
Meanwhile, as quoted by Antara News Agency, Papua Police Chief General Paulus Waterpauw confirmed the interrogation against the four students. “I ordered Jayapura Municipal Police Chief to explore the case, to find out what do their plans,” said Waterpauw.
He stated in general the security situation in Papua is conducive during the commemoration West Papuan Independence Day which held every 1 December. Moreover, he said there were no public activities considered disturbing the security and public order.
“Generally safe, conducive and controlled. We are grateful to all stakeholders. Therefore, the commemoration of 1 December, which is an annual event, can run in a conducive, safe and controlled,” said Paulus Waterpauw on Sunday (1/12/2019). (*)
Reporter: Victor Mambor
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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