Update on military operations in Paniai and Australian involvement

Alex Rayfield

22 December 2011

Human rights defenders in Paniai report that searches were recently carried out in the Badauwo, Geko and Kinouv area of East Paniai. Shooting was also heard in the vicinity of Mt Wege.

Local human rights defenders remain adamant that Australian and U.S trained and funded Detachment 88 police and military counter terrorism troops are still involved in the search for John Yogi, the Paniai based commander of the West Papuan Liberation Army (or TPN as it is known in Indonesian).

On Tuesday 20 December in Nabire the Head of Police (Kapolres) in Paniai, Mr Siregar urged John and Salmon Yogi to give themselves up. A local Brimob commander also told local press and community leaders gathered at the Nabire police station that Salmon Yogi had been wounded.

According to a source present at the meeting the Brimob commander said that military operations “would continue until John and Salmon Yogi and the men under their command either surrendered, were arrested or were shot dead”. The police commander also told people not to be scared; that the police would protect them and that they would be still be able to celebrate Christmas.

The Office for Justice and Peace in Paniai reports that Yogi has six men under his control and a total of two firearms. It also believed that the men’s wives and children are also with them.

The town of Enarotali is also not safe. Church leaders report that there has been shooting in Enarotali. The latest gunshots occurred on Tuesday 20 December at 6pm and again on Wednesday 21 December at 1am and 5am. A local church leader told West Papua Media that “local people are scared and in a state of panic”.  A woman whose family lives in Enarotali told West Papua Media that her uncle went to the toilet at night and was shot and wounded by a sniper.

Despite the ongoing military operations human rights defenders, church, tribal and community leaders in Paniai are publicly calling for the Indonesian military and police to cease operations.

In relation to the alleged involvement of the Australian mining company Paniai Gold, it has now come to light that there are two gold mining companies operating in the area. Komopa (or Haji ARI – the exact name is still unclear) is believed to be an Indonesian owned company located in the vicinity of the Degeuwo River. Paniai Gold, a wholly owned Australian subsidiary of West Wits, is based on Derewo River.

According to local sources at 2pm on Tuesday 21 December the police again hired a commercial helicopter to carry out military operations. In a report provided to West Papua Media it is stated that the helicopter used on the 21 December was owned by the Haji ARI Company. In the same report it is alleged that the military and police flew over a camp (a blue tent) in the forest and proceeded to shot into the camp from the helicopter.

It is not clear to what extent the two companies share the use of the helicopters used in recent military operations against the TPN, given they allegedly share the same base in Nabire.

There are many unanswered questions about the military operations and extent of Australia’s involvement.

A key question concerns whether Indonesian military and police (including Brimob) providing security services to Paniai Gold were involved in the large-scale military operations against the West Papuan Liberation Army based at Eduda, and to what extent the Australian embassy helped facilitate Paniai Gold’s operations.

And despite Canberra’s denials that Australian and U.S. trained and funded D88 troops are involved in hunting down so-called separatists, there is mounting evidence that this is exactly what D88 are doing in West Papua. Papuan human rights defenders and their supporters continue to argue that Australian and U.S. support for the Indonesian military only help “create more efficient human rights abusers”. Despite this, the Australian government conducts no independent monitoring and evaluation of Australian taxpayer’s money provided to the Indonesian military.

There are also concerns about the role of the local and central government. Papuans are asking questions about who is funding the military operation. What is the role of the local Bupati and local government? Why won’t the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono cease operations when it is clear that ordinary villagers are dying as a result and that Yogi and his men have only two modern weapons between them?

West Papua Media, an independent media outlet working with a local network of citizen journalists, will continue to monitor the situation.

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