Chiapas Ten Years Later

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New Year's Wish from West Papua

This article is not about the Zapatista struggle, but is posted in solidarity with the indigenous of Papua.

New Year's Wish from West Papua
Posted on Tue, 12/28/2004 - 17:13.

WestPAN Exclusives

As most of the Western world prepares to celebrate, an anxious appeal for peace
was issued [on December 22] by eight church-based organizations in the oft-forgotten
land of West Papua. The churches, along with 27 traditional tribal councils,
human-rights institutions and other organizations, are making a Christmas and New Year's plea for
international attention and support. Without this, they predict an imminent repeat
of East Timor-style massacres in West Papua, masterminded by the same individual.

In May 2004, Franciscans International urged the UN to put pressure on Indonesia to
disband terrorist-run, government-supported paramilitary groups, stating, "The
presence in Papua of Eurico Guterres, one of the architects involved in organizing
terror wrought by militias in East Timor in 1999, is a cause for grave concern." Mr
Guterres, indicted by an Indonesian court for crimes against humanity, has remained
free while he appeals his jail sentence. Recent reports from coastal towns in West
Papua indicate that shipments of guns are arriving and being distributed to local
militia recruited and organized by Mr Guterres. His organizing activities in West
Papua have been well known for more than a year.

[The December 22] appeal also stated that an additional 25,000 Indonesian troops
have arrived in West Papua since 2000. Also, more than a million Indonesian migrants
have been relocated there, and will soon outnumber the 1.5 million native Papuans.
It is a recipe for disaster for Papuans, who are a loosely organized set of highly
diverse tribal cultures. (West Papua contains 15% of the world's known languages.)
An escalating military operation in the highlands has displaced more than 6,000
indigenous Papuans over the past few months. These people are prevented from
returning to their sources of food and medicine, and humanitarian organizations are
not allowed access to the area. It is a slow but steady genocide.

The region has virtually been under siege for 40 years, but governments of developed
nations have just recently started to acknowledge this. Although smaller nations and
members of parliaments worldwide have denounced Indonesia's forced integration of
its easternmost "province", on December 20 the British House of Lords was the first
to openly admit that Papuans were forced into Indonesia against their will. Earlier
this month, the US government extended their human rights-based decision to withhold
military assistance.

Efforts over the past few years to establish a "zone of peace" have failed and the
Christmas appeal calls the situation a "time bomb waiting to go off". Protests have
become larger, more frequent, and more violent as Papuans are pushed to the brink.
Sadly, the church groups and their allies are sounding the trumpet in a world
deafened by explosions in the Middle East. They have tried to warn us before, yet
the situation has only deteriorated as a result of global neglect.

It often takes an extreme situation for the Church to speak out, let alone band
together with other denominations. This is a desperate appeal from desperate people.
They cling to the hope that international pressure will result in a reversal of
direction imposed by Indonesia's new president, [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono, who
plans to visit December 26. The man who sang John Lennon's "Imagine" after winning
the election three months ago has expressed his intent to rein in the military.
Papuans are hoping he will take this opportunity to demonstrate a true commitment.
As unlikely as many believe that may be, it is their only hope to see Yuletide
peace, and ultimately to avert a grand-scale disaster.

Tom Benedetti
WestPAN (West Papua Action Network)
Canada (Dec 24, '04)


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