Claims by Indonesia authorities that the killing of West Papuan rebel leader Kelly Kwalik last month would improve security in the province’s restive Timika region were dashed Jan. 24 when nine people traveling in a convoy of US mining company Freeport-McMoran were injured in an ambush. Papua police said gunmen fired at two buses and four other vehicles carrying Freeport employees and family members on the highway between the mine and Kuala Kencana town. The injured included one US and one South African national working at the Grasberg gold and copper mine, the teenage daughter of a mine employee, and four Mobile Brigade police officers. (Jakarta Globe, Jan. 25)
The ambush follows the controversial naming of a senior Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) officer as regional military commander in West Papua. Kopassus forces have long been implicated in grave rights abuses in campaigns against local populations struggling for autonomy or independence.
The appointment of Maj. Gen. Hotma Marbun to the Military Command for the Kodam-XVII Cenderawasih region comes as Papuans continue to seek a dialogue with the Jakarta government and the demilitarization of their homeland, in spite of recent escalations in violence. Their appeals have been resisted by a military that persists in describing Papuan protest leaders as “separatists.” Maj. Gen. Marbun was involved in operations in Indonesia-occupied East Timor in 1983 and 1986, a particularly bloody period during the occupation. He also participated in military operations in West Papua in 1982 and 1994.
Kopassus actions in West Papua include “sweeping operations” purportedly in pursuit of “separatists” that in fact targeted highland Papuan villagers, and the torture-murder of the leading Papuan political figure Theys Eluay. The Indonesian justice system has chronically failed to hold accountable Kopassus and other Indonesian security forces responsible for criminality and rights violations, advocates charge.
For decades, the US military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus despite widely acknowledged abuses and criminal activity. The Obama administration is reportedly considering resuming such assistance, terminated under Congressional pressure more than a decade ago. (ETAN, Jan. 23)