New Matilda: Australia Is Policing Separatism

from our friends at


5 Mar 2012

By Marni Cordell


Indonesia’s counter-terror unit Detachment 88 is funded and trained by Australia. Why are we so involved with a unit whose work includes counter-separatist activities? Marni Cordell reports from Jakarta

When politicians in Australia hail the success of Indonesia’s counter-terror forces in catching, charging — and often killing — the country’s top terror operatives, it’s Detachment 88’s work they are talking about.

Detachment 88 is an elite counter-terror unit within the Indonesian National Police that was formed in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali Bombings. It is funded and trained by Australia, and enjoys close co-operation with the Australian Federal Police.

Noordin Top, Dulmatin, Abu Bakar Bashir, Umar Patek have all been apprehended since the force became operational in 2003. Jakarta-based terror expert Sidney Jones calls them “the top of the top” — and Australia’s training and money have been instrumental in their success in disarming Indonesia’s significant terror network. According to DFAT, Indonesian authorities have convicted over 470 terrorists and their accomplices since 2000.

But there are growing concerns about what else they are using that deadly efficiency for — and although we train and fund them, we exercise little control over their operations.

When Detachment 88 was accused in 2010 of torturing independence activists in the Indonesian province of Maluku, the AFP and Australian Government said they were concerned about the allegations but had “no mandate to investigate the conduct of foreign police within another country”.

But the incident was not an isolated one — now, activists in West Papua claim Detachment 88 is being deployed to hunt down not only armed resistance fighters, but also civilians with ties to the independence movement, in what appears to be a growing campaign of intimidation.

I met Eric Sonindemi, a participant in last October’s Third Papuan People’s Congress, in a cafe in Jakarta. He told me that soon after their arrival from Jakarta, a surge of Detachment 88 personnel was involved in the deadly attack on Congress, in which six people were killed and many others wounded.

“Most of the security forces were in plain clothes, but they weren’t really concealing their weapons — they were sort of showing off,” Sonindemi told NM. “Detachment 88 was there,” he said, explaining that he “saw their equipment and riots shields”.

On the last day of Congress, Sonindemi was as surprised as other participants when the police and military opened fire because the gathering had been peaceful. “Everyone thought it was going to be safe because the event ended peacefully and [Congress leader] Forkorus Yaboisembut thanked the police and Indonesia for their support. People went home thinking they were safe,” he said.

But then security forces began firing indiscriminately into the dwindling crowd.

“I was in a nearby monastery when the shooting started — which wasn’t until about 30-45 minutes after the Congress had ended,” Sonindemi said.

“I hid in one of the brothers’ rooms and put on one of his robes, pretending to be a student. Soon the fully armed police and military arrived. They used tear gas and threatened to ransack the place before taking away a number of people, who were all told to squat and crawl toward the sports field.”

“Hundreds of people were detained that night and many of them were beaten in detention. I spoke to one person who had a gash in his head, a broken nose and bruises on his face. He had been beaten with the butt of a rifle by a policeman.”

“He was subsequently released and never charged with any crime.”

Sonindemi explains that the security situation in Papua has “really been heating up” since August last year. “Before August, the police and military would not come in big numbers if there was a public rally. That has changed now,” he told New Matilda.

According to Jakarta Globe journalist Nivell Rayda, who has been investigating Detachment 88, there has been a marked shift by the force in recent months toward policing “separatism” — rather than terrorism.

When I spoke to Rayda last week in the Jakarta Globe newsroom he said he believes this is because Indonesia has not had a major terror attack since the second JW Marriott bombing in 2009 — and says he noticed a similar trend between 2005 and 2009, when there was also a period of relative calm.

“Detachment 88 being somewhat of an elite unit, being funded and trained by foreign countries… they just lay dormant — their resources, their equipment and their tactical abilities, and investigation techniques just laying dormant for years,” he told NM. It was during this period that the unit was involved in the torture of local independence activists in Maluku.

“In 2009 we had another major attack, but since then we’ve arrested nearly all the major players and terrorism suspects … there haven’t really been any major terrorism events taking shape, and it looks like the pattern seems to repeat itself: Detachment 88 has been engaging once more in non-terrorism issues, including [counter] separatism,” he said.

Rayda agrees that Detachment 88 is not only pursuing armed resistance fighters, and cites a case in August last year in Nafri, Papua, in which two young girls were detained among a group of 15 people after a fatal shooting attack on a public minivan.

The OPM was blamed but denied involvement and Detachment 88 was dispatched to help local police with the investigation. Nivell told New Matilda, “After Detachment 88 stepped in, they arrested 15 people — including a 7- and an 8-year-old girl. These 15 people were beaten, they were tortured, they were arbitrarily detained and treated inhumanely.

“But the following day, they released 13 of them. So only two of them were responsible for the shooting, and the other 13 were innocent — but they were beaten as well.”

Eric Sonindemi said mass arrests are a common tactic used by police in Papua to intimidate people and weed out the perpetrators.

A Jakarta-based security analyst who asked not to be named admitted when I met with them last week that they held concerns about Detachment 88’s loose definition of terrorism — but claimed the force was “moving away from [policing separatism] now”.

“Detachment 88 has been sent to Papua in certain cases where the local police don’t have investigative skills, but it’s more to help in the investigations than to engage in raids,” the analyst told NM.

“The exception to that was the… death of [OPM leader] Kelly Kwalik in December 2010, which did involve Detachment 88.”

But Rayda disagrees. In fact when he asked the Indonesian National Police why Detachment 88 were involved in raids against OPM members that displaced thousands of villagers in Papua’s Paniai in December last year, he says the police were quite up front about the fact that they believe “terrorism is not only limited to bombings and militants and stuff like that. It also extends to separatism”.

An Australian funded and trained elite counter-separatist force? This was not the Australian government’s intention when it began pouring millions of dollars into the Indonesian counter-terror effort after the Bali bombings. Both the 2002 MoU with Indonesia on combating international terrorism, and the MoU on police co-operation between our two countries, focus firmly on transnational, not local, crime — and the AFP says Detachment 88 has not sought assistance from Australia in any investigations or operations to counter internal separatist movements.

However, the Australians do admit to working very closely with the Indonesian National Police at Jakarta headquarters, where Detachment 88 is now controlled.

New Matilda asked the AFP how much they know about Detachment 88’s operations before they take place. We also asked the minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare, whether Australia condoned a definition of terrorism that included peaceful expressions of dissent.

We did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Detachment 88 has a distinctive owl logo but Nivell Rayda say locals recognise their presence because, unlike the local police, they carry foreign-made weapons and wear balaclava-like masks. Curiously, Detachment 88 officers are commonly issued with Steyr assault rifles — an unusual rifle to be used by Indonesian forces. The Steyr is standard issue to Australian troops and is manufactured by Australian Defence Industries in Lithgow NSW.

Rayda has spoken to a number of activists in Papua and Indonesia’s other trouble spots who have noticed officers from the elite unit at rallies and during raids.

Sonindemi agreed when I met with him that, “The understanding that Detachment 88 are in Papua now is quite widespread”, and told me he was deeply concerned about the situation.

“Usually in Papua conflicts emerge because of increased troop deployment. It’s usually the source of the problem.”

This is the first article in an ongoing NM investigation of Detachment 88 and Australia’s role in the Indonesian counter-terror effort.

When there is no guarantee of security of life for the people of Papua

by John Pakage for West Papua Media


March 1, 2012

(Edited and abridged in translation by West Papua Media)

Tuesday morning, 21st February, Courtroom 1A in Jayapura was peaceful but tense. Many soldiers were to be seen guarding the streets for a session of the trial of Forkorus Yoboisembut, Edison Gladius Waromi, Agustinus M. Sananay Kraar, Selpius Bobii and Dominikus Sorabut.  They were arrested after the session of the Congress of the People of Papua in Zakeus Pakage Square, Abepura,Jayapura, on the 19th of October 2011.

At the fifth meeting in this case, some witnesses, who were all members of the police, said they had not been direct witnesses and did not know about the public nature of the meeting of the Papua Congress. Seven witnesses out of the eight who were called by the court had attended. These witnesses had only heard from a distance the voice of Forkorus reading the resulting resolution of the Congress.

Forkorus Yoboisembut, Edison Gladius Waromi, Agustinus M. Sananay Kraar, Selpius Bobii and Dominikus Sorabut are all charged with treason, because they had declared the independence of the State of West Papua.

Concerning this case, the legal representative of the accused, Olga Hamadi, told John Pakage from Cermin Papua on Thursday 1st March that the witnesses who are making things difficult for the accused, were not actually at the location of the Congress and their evidence is refuted by those who were.

“Seven witnesses who are all members of the Police gave statements as witnesses; however, we reject them because they did not directly see the meeting. They only heard Pak Forkorus reading a declaration of the result of the Congress via the PA system,”  said Olga.

Hamadi explained that “We saw that the declaration of the results of the Congress which were read by Forkorus were a summary of statements of all the members of the Congress, which were (in turn) a direct statement of the aspirations of the people of Papua.”

Because of this, the accused did not take any action towards secession via this Congress. Thirdly, this Congress is only restoring the country to what it was before the Indonesians annexed it in 1961.

Many of the world’s human rights organisations have already sent letters to the President of the Republic of Indonesia to release Forkorus, Edison Gladius Waromi, Agustinus M. Sananay Kraar, Selpius Bobii and Dominikus Sorabut, because they only gave voice to the problems hindering democracy in Papua, and the human rights violations which would not be tolerated as legal by the government of Indonesia.

The civil human rights organisation based in New York,USA, Human Rights Watch (HRW), says that the establishment of the Congress of the People of Papua is a normal part of the human rights that belong to the people of Papua. They are calling on the government of Indonesiato withdraw the charges against the accused and free the five members of the Congress of the People of Papua immediately.

“The government of Indonesia has to live up to its commitment to peaceful resolution (of the Papua issue) by cancelling these charges against the five activists,”  said the Deputy of HRW for Asia, Elaine Pearson, in a statement cited by AFP on Monday 29th January, 2012.

A similar appeal came from a member of the Congress of the United States, Eni Faleomavaega. Eni said that the TNI and Police were the initiators of the unrest in Papua, especially by the scattering and arrest of members of the Third Congress of the People of Papua (KRP).

Compare this with the stated commitment of the government of Susilo Bambang Yuhdoyono, that it will deal with the problems in West Papua in a “peaceful way, with justice, and with dignity”.

While this legal case is ongoing, international support is growing in strength for the aspirations of Papua to be given the opportunity to express themselves. This support is seen by the government of Indonesia as foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Indonesia’s province of Papua.

It is no secret that the international public already knows of the meeting of the International Group of Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) in Australia on February 29. This support for Papua is gathering in Australia from many of the nations of the Pacific.

On 22 September 2010, a member of the American Congress, Eni Faleomavaega, became familiar with the problems in Papua, and heard (In a special session of the  U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs) about the human rights violations which are perpetrated in Papua by the Indonesian government.

Several experts testified at the Committee Hearings and examined a selection of the problems of democracy in Papua, and the violations of human rights.  These included Pieter Drooglever (Institute of Netherlands History), Henkie Rumbewas (a Papuan independence activist), and Sophie Richardson, PhD (Human Rights Watch).

This international opposition has made the government of Indonesia very cautious about the growing support for Papua from many nations outside Papua. Indonesia is afraid that there is a chance that the forces of the US in Darwin, Australia, which will number around 2500 US Marines, will be used to intervene to help liberate Papua.

The head of  Committee 1 of the DPR, Ahmad Muzani, said that the superpower has a close relationship with the personnel in Darwin. He says that the US forces are tied up with the problems in Papua because they have hidden interests in the territory.

To be sure, as technology develops in the world there are fewer incidents  happening in the jungles of Papua that remain unknown.  Since 1969, when the Indonesian government first banned foreign journalists from covering news on the ground in Papua, there have been many cases of foreign journalists being deported back to their home countries from Papua. It’s not clear why Indonesia is so afraid of what’s happening in Papua.

International attention on Papua is also increasing because Papua is a great source of natural resources. Many countries and companies would like to invest in Papua, like Freeport McMoran, an American company which provides huge amounts of  foreign exchange to Indonesia. Freeport enables the Indonesian government to operate in the way it does. This fact would be made very clear if Freeport was forced to close and withdraw all its investment (as some Indonesian and most Papuan figures are calling for). That truly would be a great disaster for -Indonesia – in fact, Indonesia could be broken up by such an outcome.

However, for the last few months Freeport has only just been able to continue operations. The business has reported that its profits are only US6.4 billion, or about Rp57.6 trillion  for the last year, a fall of US1.5 billion from the year before.

“This result is not good, because it shows a fall-off in our operations, at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia,” said the CEO of Freeport, Richard Adkerson, as reported on the BBC on Saturday 21 January this year.

It can be seen that for some months now there has been a loss of business, which is growing all the time, because the management of Freeport has stopped operations of the automated extraction of gold.  The mining of copper at Grasberg has also been reduced.

(These stoppages were initially caused by Freeports’s wholesale rejection of its workers demands for work safety guarantees and living wage increases, from US$1.50 per hour to US$14 per hour.  Freeport workers conducted a five month long strike forcing Freeport to declare force majeure on its supplies and projections. West Papua Media)

These stoppages have affected the share price of PT Freeport Indonesia on the Indonesian stock market (BEI), and also the share price of (parent company) Freeport-McMoran in America. So of course there is a loss by America which is growing. There will also be further significant losses if there is a general economic slowdown, both in Indonesia and in other countries.

At the present time,Freeporthas not been operating since Thursday March 1, and Freeport has stopped operations for the next six months. (It is amidst) these circumstances that America is still donating fighting planes such as the F16 and Hercules to the Indonesian military.

The US Defence Minister, Leon Panetta, has been trying to set up a bilateral meeting with Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro to establish a summit of the Defence ministers ofSouth East AsiainBalifor some time now. The US Defence Secretary also had a meeting with President Yudhoyono at the Ayodya Hotel in Bali.

However, the promised US delivery of 24 F-16 fighter planes and Apache helicopters has not as yet been finalised. Further action is needed in this process, as the planes have not yet arrived in Indonesia. Military observer Rizal Darmaputera views the stepping up of defence cooperation between the US and Indonesia as “one means of implementing America’s geopolitical strategy on the Asia-Pacific rim to balance the growing strength of China.”

The (geo)strategic position of Indonesia is a necessary link in the alliance of the US with various Asia-Pacific countries which tie in with its close connection with Japan and Australia.

So America gives this donation of war planes to Indonesia, knowing that they will be used to ensure that the Papua problem be handled internally by Indonesia to maintain the “unity of the Republic of Indonesia”.

Therefore the promise (by SYB) of basic human rights for Papua demanded by Forkorus and friends will not keep them out of jail as now. Jakarta must evaluate its treatment of the people of Papua as part of the human race, and who deserve rights and respect just as other people in the world deserve; and not to treat them (in the manner) as did AKP Rido Purba, an Indonesian Police officer in Papua who spat in the faces of Forkorus and friends at the time of their arrest.

Up to this time we have yet to see justice and the admission of basic human rights to Papuans; so (the next hearing of treason trial on) March 2 will be a very important stage in the case against Forkorus and friends by the Indonesian justice system in Jayapura.

At this point, “the trial of Forkorus and company will resume,” said  Olga Hamadi, Director of Kontras.

# John Pakage is an independent journalist based in West Papua and a regular contributor to WPM.

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