The young Papuans risking life and limb in the name of resistance

By Neles Tebay

This year has seen a new development in the Papuan struggle. The resistance against Indonesia's rule over the territory of the western half of New Guinea is no longer led by the old guard of Papuans who had experienced Dutch colonial rule and had witnessed the 1969 Act of Free Choice that resulted in Papua's integration into the Republic of Indonesia.

Today's resistance is no longer directed from Papua's jungles by a commander of the National Liberation Army of West Papua, a military wing of Papuan resistance groups called the Free Papua Movement known as Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).

The resistance is now organized and led by the younger generation of Papuans.

The shootings and torture of Papuans that has gone on since December 2014 until today, accompanied by various incidents of unrest, indicate that the young Papuans who were outsiders in the past are now front-liners in the Papuan resistance.

The latest shooting of young Papuans — as recorded by police and NGOs, among others — took place on Sept. 28 in Timika, the capital of Mimika regency. Kaleb Bagau, 21, was shot to death and Erfando Sabarofak, 17, sustained injuries during shooting by the police.

On Aug. 28, responding to Papuans gathering in front of a Catholic church for a thanksgiving celebration, two military members opened fire in Timika, resulting in the killing of two Papuans, Yulianus Okoare, 18, and Imanuel Marimau, 23. The shooting injured Thomas Apoka, 16, and three others in their early 20s — Moses Umapi, Marinus Apokapo and Moses Imipu.

On Aug. 27, three young Papuans, Wilhelmus Awom, 26, Soleman Yom, 27, and Yafet Awom, 19, were abducted and severely tortured by police in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.

On July 17, 12 Papuans were shot by security personnel in Karubaga, the capital of Tolikara regency, in the central highland. One, Endi Wanimbo, 15, was killed and 11 others were injured by the shootings. The shooting was a response to Papuans who had protested.
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The shooting of Papuans might not reflect institutional policy of the military and police.

On June 25, Yoseni Agapa, 15, was shot to death, allegedly by security forces, in Ugapuga village, Dogiyai regency.

On March 19, a clash erupted between police and hundreds of young Papuans who had gathered in Dekai, the capital of Yahukimo regency, to show support for the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). One was killed and Intel Senegil, 16, was wounded by the shooting. Meanwhile three young men, Elkius Kobak, 23, Putih Bahabol, 28, and Era Kobak, 26, were arrested and detained by the police.

On Dec. 8, 2014, some 22 Papuans were shot, allegedly by security forces, in Enarotali, the capital of Paniai regency. Four — 17-year-olds Alpius Youw, Yulian Yeimo and Alpius Gobai and Simon Degei, 18 — were killed on the spot. Meanwhile some 18 others were injured and taken to the hospital for further medical treatment. The Papuans were shot while they were holding a peaceful demonstration, while performing a traditional dance, to call for justice.

Each of these violent incidents could be isolated cases. They might not have been planned actions. They might have occurred accidentally out of misunderstanding. The shooting of Papuans might not reflect institutional policy of the military and police. Nevertheless, the fact shows that all of the victims of the violent conflicts are indigenous Papuans from 15 to 27 years old. Many were high school students.

The young Papuans were killed because this generation of native Papuans makes up the front-liners in the resistance against the military and police who are representative of Indonesia.

These young Papuans do not know the Dutch language at all, only Indonesian. They were born in 1990s and therefore educated by the government of Indonesia, but resist Indonesia.

They opt for unarmed resistance. They manifest their resistance through peaceful demonstrations in all the towns of Papua and West Papua provinces.

They also openly argue with the military and or the police, with the full knowledge that they might be beaten, tortured, detainedor even murdered.

As a result, the military and police are forced to deal with the young Papuans. Many clashes, therefore, take place between the security forces and the young Papuans. The young people-led Papuan resistance is no longer based in the jungle, nor in remote and isolated villages.

Rather, as manifested by the above cases, young people are resisting the security forces in Papua towns such as Timika, Karubaga, Enarotali and Jayapura.

The Papuan resistance is no longer a secret war. It is an open campaign visible to all urban dwellers.

The youth use cellular phone facilities and Internet networks available in all Papuan towns to easily and immediately spread the news of their resistance and the killing and torture of Papuans, especially through local and national media and social media.

Consequently, many people within and beyond Indonesia obtain information about the human right abuses from Papua and West Papua, although foreign journalists are not allowed to visit the region.

With the formation of the ULMWP, young Papuans raise resistance against Indonesia with better coordination and communicate their aspirations in one united voice to all parties concerned.

The military and police should leave the security approach and refrain from the shooting and torture of Papuans. The government needs to explore more peaceful ways to deal with young Papuans. To engage in dialogue with the Papuans represented by the ULMWP would be helpful in seeking a just and peaceful solution to the Papua issue.

The continuation of the security approach being applied in Papua and West Papua will, in turn, damage Indonesia's image in the eyes of the international community. Consequently, the Papuan resistance will become an international issue and Indonesia will face international pressure.


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The writer is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Abepura. In 2013 he was awarded the Tji Hak Soon Justice and Peace Award in Seoul.

This article was published in The Jakarta Post on October 21st 2015