Report – By Pacific Media Watch
An Australian funded counter-terrorism unit in West Papua is facing new accusations of abusing its power, reports an ABC investigative team that recently visited the troubled Indonesia-ruled region.
The notorious squad known as Detachment 88 has launched a fresh crackdown on independence activists, in the wake of an expose by the 7.30 Report programme in August.
“Eight men have been detained and accused of bomb-making,” said presenter Leigh Sales.
“Separatist leaders claim the explosives were planted and they have been framed to justify the squad’s activities.”
The 7.30 Report also broadcast a video report received this week from the new leader of the West Papuan National Committee (KNPB), Victor Yeimo.
He succeeded Mako Tabuni who was allegedly assassinated by the Australian trained and funded police unit Detachment 88.
Hayden Cooper filed this story for the ABC 7.30 Report:
Leaders beaten, killed
HAYDEN COOPER, REPORTER: Jayapura, West Papua, is a city marred by violence and tension, where independence leaders have been arrested, beaten, killed. And where police have been confronted by unruly and angry demonstrations.
When 7.30 travelled to the province in August, the crackdown on the independence movement was already severe, resulting in several deaths, including of this man, independence leader Mako Tabuni, shot in this street, witnesses say, by the Australian trained and funded police unit Detachment 88.
ERSON WENDA, RELATIVE (last month, voiceover translation): Clearly, it was them who killed him because we saw them shoot him and take him to their hospital.
HAYDEN COOPER: Since then, the crackdown has worsened. Victor Yeimo succeeded Tabuni as leader of the West Papuan National Committee, KNPB. This week, he sent this video to 7.30.
VICTOR YEIMO, CHAIRMAN, KNPB: We are the non-violent activists in West Papua. We will fight for our right of freedom according to the peaceful means in West Papua. We demand our right of self-determination to a referendum to be held in West Papua by UN peacefully and democratically.
HAYDEN COOPER: But the Indonesian authorities don’t believe his claim of non-violence and they’re pursuing KMPB like never before. In June, Indonesian soldiers went on a rampage in the highlands town and KNPB stronghold of Wamena, and now in a new development, police have raided the homes and offices of KNPB members in the area. Last weekend eight were arrested and witnesses say once again Detachment 88 was involved.
VICTOR YEIMO: When they arrest the KNPB brothers in Wamena, we saw Detachment 88 with one car, and another car with police, joined in by TNI.
HAYDEN COOPER: Indonesian police accuse the eight KNPB members arrested of making bombs and claim to have found explosives during the raid. Victor Yeimo rejects that and says his group is being framed as terrorists to justify Detachment 88′s presence.
VICTOR YEIMO: This is how Indonesia is now making a scenario with the terrorist issue in West Papua. As you know that in West Papua we never know how to make a bomb, how to create bomb.
HAYDEN COOPER: Some international observers and West Papuan advocates back that view
CAMMI WEBB-GANNON, SYDNEY UNI: I don’t think that the KNPB has any reason to be making bombs because they believe in a peaceful approach to pursuing independence. They want a referendum on independence in West Papua.
HAYDEN COOPER: In West Papua the Institute for Human Rights Advocacy, known as ELSHAM, has studied the arrests and suspects the explosives recovered by police were part of an elaborate set-up.
CAMMI WEBB-GANNON: They don’t have the capacity to gain the materials, so ELSHAM has actually said that the materials were probably planted in the KMPB members’ houses where they found the explosives and that’s not an unusual thing for security forces to do.
HAYDEN COOPER: The weekend raids follow the appointment of a new police chief in Papua, Brigadier General Tito Karnavian. His background as the former head of Detachment 88 generates serious unease among some Papuans, despite his assurances of a new inclusive approach.
Hearts and minds
CAMMI WEBB-GANNON: They will be opposed to his former role as the head of Densus 88, and as a police chief this just – it doesn’t seem to mesh with his new approach of working – to win the hearts and minds of Papuans.
RONNY KARENI, WEST PAPUAN EXPATRIATE: I have no doubt there’ll be definitely more crackdowns on KNPB members and those who are very active and very vocal in pursuing and calling for independence for West Papua, and that is for sure, that that’s one thing that Jakarta is aiming to shutting down political activists in West Papua.
HAYDEN COOPER: Ronny Kareni is one of many West Papuans living in Australia. He uses music to promote the independence cause on behalf of his friends at home.
RONNY KARENI: Every day, like, I got SMS coming through my phone and then the information is that their lives are under intimidation and they always live in state of fear and they’re being followed and it’s sad, but this is the reality in West Papua.
HAYDEN COOPER: 7.30 put several questions to the Indonesian Government but received no reply. Attempts to contact the new Papuan police chief were also unsuccessful.
As for Victor Yeimo, he is pushing for the release of the eight activists arrested on the weekend, and with his supporters here, he’s pressuring Australia to rethink its funding for Detachment 88.
RONNY KARENI: The Papuans will be pretty much living like prisoners in our own land where our movement, what we do, will be censored, will be monitored, will be followed, and as I said, there’s no room for democracy at all.
LEIGH SALES: Hayden Cooper reporting.