Issue #1565 19 September 2012
West Papua outrage and the Australian connection
There was a grim reminder recently of Australia’s very negative role in the region with news of the actions of Indonesia’s Detachment 88. The “counter-terrorism” unit has been involved in a string of human rights abuses in West Papua and is suspected of the killing of separatist leader Mako Tabuni. Detachment 88 receives support from Australian forces including the Australian Federal Police. It also receives assistance from the US military.
The reports are a reminder of the aid given to Indonesia’s special Kopassus forces that had an appalling record of rape, torture and “disappearances” during East Timor’s long struggle for independence. Kopassus was given assistance from the Australian military and conducted annual, joint “counter-terrorism” exercises with the Special Air Services Regiment. The then Howard government reluctantly and belatedly withdrew its support for Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
The killing of Mr Tabuni has sparked widespread criticism of Indonesia’s heavy handed role in West Papua and the support its military receives from Australia. Tabuni headed the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) which engages in non-violent campaigning for independence and a political solution to the conflict in the province. Detachment 88 is also deployed in the battle against the Free Papua Movement (OPM) which is conducting a militant struggle for independence. In December 2010 it killed OPM leader Kelly Kwalik.
But it is mounting evidence of brutality against peaceful protest and organisation that is reviving concerns about what is taking place in West Papua. Greens Senator Richard Di Natale is among those speaking out. “The fact that Australian dollars are training Indonesian military, particularly counter-terrorism operations that are contributing to human rights abuses in West Papua is a real concern to me,” he told ABC TV recently.
“There’s a very strong argument that we should be withdrawing our support of those operations immediately,” the Senator added. “If we’re in fact fuelling that conflict, the onus is on us to ensure that we stop doing that and we get much better accountability in terms of our relationship with the Indonesians.”
Senator Di Natale asked Foreign Minister Bob Carr to raise these issues with Indonesia’s foreign minister and to “make it very clear to his counterpart in Indonesia that what’s going on in the region is unacceptable.” Senator Carr has replied that he will seek a full airing of the issues but added that it was in Australia’s interests for Indonesia to have a formidable “anti-terrorism” capacity.
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