Across West Papua, a series of remarkable and disturbing text messages has been circulating the claim that Indonesian security forces are preparing a major security assault across Papua in an operation that allegedly began on February 10.
West Papua Media has been unable to speak with any of the alleged participants in the meeting, nor any official representative of the organisations present, to verify these reports. However local sources are reporting that security forces have intensified patrols and street presence in Jayapura at least that would correspond to such an operation.
According to the messages a meeting was held at the Hotel Aston at 10am on February 9, between Polda Papua senior police officers. Also at the meeting were the Papuan governor, the Commander of Cenderawasih Military District Erfi Triassunu, and officials from the Papua District Attorney, State Intelligence Body (BIN), the army Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS), senior Kopassus officers, and leaders from Barisan Merah Putih – the main pro-Indonesia militia. The meeting was allegedly being held against the threat of disintegration of Indonesia by separatist groups in Papua, according to the messages.
Erfi Triassunu - duplicitous
Participants allegedly raised the issue that “pro-merdeka” Papuan independence aspirations had been “globalized” and were attracting widespread international support especially after the brutal and heavy handed crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the Third Papuan People’s Congress on October 19, 2011, according to the source.
The Memorandum assigned to officers present was to immediately raise “any safety risk to the smooth operation codes” – believed to indicate that security forces would be placed on high alert to prevent all expressions of self-determination. It continued:
“The main focus is for the treason trial of Forkorus Yaboisembut and colleagues, who should not be given (political or public) space to defend themselves to their (Papuan) people and release pressure on the Makar defendants. Any adverse condition in the control of the military from the Start Date (of) 10 February 2012 immediately increase security emergency.”
The messages then hinted darkly at the final conclusion of the meeting: “Do not hesitate (in carrying out your duty if you have) to violate human rights for the sake of the sovereignty of Indonesia. ”
The text messages were said by local human rights sources to have come from a “very reliable source close to the military”. It is not known at this stage if these text messages have been circulated deliberately by military intelligence as a possible tension building exercise.
West Papua has been subjected to many false SMS rumour “storms” in the past as sources believed by observers to be Indonesian intelligence officers have circulated false and inciting claims of imminent communal violence. This includes a notorious case
Threats by SMS to human rights defenders and journalists are commonplace in Papua, widely believed to come from military sources.
Across Papua in recent weeks, SMS messages are also circulating claiming that “mysterious killings” are allegedly being perpetrated by Indonesian security forces against West Papuan civilians. Reports have been circulating that a man allegedly from Yakuhimo, Puncak Jaya, was killed and his mutiliated body turned up in Sentani, and another allegedly was found in a marketplace in Abepura. Additionally bodies have been reported as being found in similar circumstances in Timika and Wamena, but none of these reports have been able to be independently verified.
Following the armed skirmishes between the Indonesian army and police with a group thought to be the TPN/OPM led by John Magay Yogi, and a number of mysterious shooting incidents, the towns of Enarotali and Madi in Paniai district are full of military personnel who have arrived from outside Paniai. Although the situation was thought to have improved, the presence of military personnel has spread anxiety among the population.
The reason for the increased deployment of troops to Paniai may be to hunt down some weapons that were seized by unidentified persons from the police station in Komopa, sub-district of Agadide on 16 August. Or is it because Paniai is regarded as an area of conflict which needs extra action on the security front?
Whatever the reason, the local people along with local government officials long for a peaceful Paniai and call for a halt to the dispatch of more military troops. The local people have called on the local military chief, the military commander of XVII/Cenderawasih military command as well as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pull back these troops from the area.
A local community leader said: ‘Paniai is calm but many troops and police have been sent here. Is it because there is a war?’
According to Yafeth Y Kayame, head of the Suku Mee people, the additional deployment of many troops to Paniai has undermined the call for peace that was made last Saturday in Enarotali.. Local people have become more frightened than ever.
People are asking ‘Why have they come to Paniai? Enarotali and Paniai are not areas of conflict so the authorities must stop sending troops here.’ They have been arriiving here over the past four days, so who do they want to fight with? Or do they want to kill all of us here?’
The local administration should not keep silent but should take steps to safeguard security for the population. If it is only to re-capture two firearms, then the troops already here would surely be enough, without bringing in more troops, they say.
Many people think that the presence in the area of TPN/OPM forces in Eduda is being used as a justification to bring troops here from Jayapura and Nabire. According to some sources, in addition to infantry brigade 753/Arga Vira Tama Nabire, a Brimob company is also being deployed to Paniai.
Although this has been denied by Major-General Erfi Triassunu, the military commander of XVII/Cenderawasih military command, the fact is that these ‘new’ troops can be seen almost every day driving along the roads in convoys.
Meanwhile, anxiety has continued to spread among the local people and many have left their homes with a new exodus starting on Tuesday.
The chief of the Indonesian Army in West Papua has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a public apology to the Kingmi Papua Church over a leaked letter first published in New Matilda, reports Alex Rayfield
In an extraordinary media statement dated Monday 18 July the chief of the Army in Indonesian occupied West Papua, Major-General Erfi Triassunu, issued a very public apology to the leadership and congregation of the Kingmi Papua Church.
In the statement, a copy of which has been obtained by New Matilda, the general writes, “if I caused any offence to the Kingmi Papua Church I am sorry”.
Reverend Benny Giay, the moderator of the embattled Kingmi Papua Church, and a subject of the general’s initial ire, said that “this is perhaps the first time in West Papuan history that an Indonesian Army Chief has apologised to the West Papuan church”.
A copy of the original letter was also obtained by New Matilda who published an exclusive story on 7 July. The article was then republished in Open Democracy, written about in daily newspaper Bintang Papua and discussed extensively in blogs, Facebook and email lists inside and outside West Papua.
In the original letter (marked “secret” and dated 30 April 2011) Triassunu repeats claims made by representatives of Kingmi Indonesia, an Indonesian-wide church, that Kingmi Papua is a separatist organisation. In his letter, the general weighed into a conflict that he himself notes is an internal church matter.
The most disturbing phrase in the original letter is a veiled threat by the chief of the Army to take “assertive action” if the conflict between Kingmi Indonesia and Kingmi Papua is not resolved. What is implied here is that the Kingmi Papua Church must cease all efforts to establish an autonomous church in West Papua or risk violent retaliation from the state. It is these kinds of statements that can encourage Indonesian nationalist militias to take the law into their own hands, says Benny Giay.
However, in the three-page apology to Kingmi Papua Church, the general claims that the military command in Papua has never stated that Kingmi Papua is a separatist organisation. He also clarifies the meaning of the phrase “assertive action”, insisting that he did not mean to imply “repressive action” but rather wanted to encourage the civil authorities in Papua to resolve the internal church conflict “on the basis of peace and mercy”.
If true, it marks a seismic policy shift for the Indonesian Army in West Papua — news that will certainly be welcome to Giay. Kingmi Papua’s pastors have been killed at the hands of the Indonesian Military since they first occupied West Papua in 1963. Papuan Church leaders and their congregations across Papua are regularly harassed and intimidated by Indonesian security forces. Public beatings and torture by the security forces is also systemic in Papua, meted out on the basis of race and often conducted in public view, reports ANU based academic Br. Budi Hernawan.
While welcoming the apology, Giay urges the civilian and military authorities in Indonesia to go further. In an open letter to the Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono dated 16 July, Giay asks the President to guarantee Kingmi Papua’s right to exist. An apology from the chief of the Army in Papua after all, is no guarantee of religious freedom.
Giay maintains that the real cause of the conflict, whether between Kingmi Indonesia and Kingmi Papua or the Indonesian government and the Kingmi Church, is political and fundamentally connected to the history of Papua. To break the impasse Giay repeats the call for “dialogue” and an end to “stigmatising” the Papuan people for wanting to address the root causes of state violence in Papua.
Recognition of the right of the Church in Papua to speak out on behalf of the oppressed and to take nonviolent action in protection of their congregations is an acid test for freedom of speech in West Papua.
To date the Indonesian Government has failed that test.
While the general seeks to reassure Papuans that the Army wants to resolve problems on the basis of “peace” and “mercy”, their approach has been inconsistent at best. Papuans are still not allowed to raise the Morning Star flag or sing their national anthem “Hai Tanahku Papua“. Filep Karma, who has been sentenced to 15 years for nonviolent action remains in jail along with scores of other Papuan political prisoners. A press conference by the West Papua National Committee earlier this month concerning current military operations in Puncak Jaya had to be cancelled because of police and military intimidation of the both the organisers and invited journalists.
The Indonesian constitution ostensibly guarantees the right to free speech but it looks a lot like that freedom does not reach West Papua. Until that changes any claim that Indonesia is a democracy rings hollow.
For now, however, Benny Giay and Kingmi Papua are claiming the apology as a “small victory”.
Whether that victory can be defended and extended remains to be seen.
ARE AUSTRALIAN MEDIA REPORTS THAT KINGMI CHURCH SUPPORTS PAPUA MERDEKA TRUE?
The KINGMI Church in the the Land of Papua has raised its concern about a report in an Australian newspaper on 7 July alleging that the KINGMI Church is using special autonomy (OTSUS) funds it receives from the provincial government to fund activities to prepare for Papuan
independence and secession from the Republic of Indonesia. The Synod of
the Church referred to Major-General Erfi Triassunu, the military
commander of the Cenderawasih Military Command XVII, as the source of
The KINGMI Church has asked the military commander to acknowledge
responsibility for the statement.
This was stated by the chairman of Commission A of the Papuan
Legislative Assembly, the DPRP, Ruben Magai, along with commission
member, Ignasius W. Mimin during a meeting with leaders of the KINGMI
When Bintang Papua sought confirmation from the military commander that he thought the KINGMI Church was separatist, he denied it, saying that he had never said this. All he wanted was that the conflict should not be used by a third party to disrupt peace in the Land of Papua.
The military commander said that he was frequently asked for assurances of security from churches that were being overwhelmed by internal conflicts, but he had asked the provincial governor to resolve these matters.
‘It is not the task of TNI (Indonesian army) institutions to resolve conflicts but we are prepared to help if requested to do so by the regional government,’ he said.
Ruben Magai said that by making such a statement, the military commander was brushing aside a number of serious problems in Papua such as corruption and recent shooting incidents which the Indonesian government had failed to resolve. He said he would be calling on the military commander to acknowledge responsibility for making a statement that stigmatises the KINGMI Church for allegedly using OTSUS funds to fund Papua’s independence as well as calling on the provincial government to give a clarification about OTSUS funds being used for religious guidance in the Land of Papua.
The chairman of the Synod of the KINGMI Church, Dr Beny Giay, said that
he had conveyed his concerns about the military commander having
disseminated a political document which apparently says that the KINGMI Church had been set up to use money received from the government to support Papuan independence. ‘The military commander’s document was leaked to us and when we checked the report, it was confirmed. We believe that what has been reported in the Australian media is indeed correct.’
Meanwhile, the legal advisor of the KINGMI Church Synod, Benny W.
Pakage, said he had called on the military commander to explain what the legal basis was for his statement. ‘We want to know what his intentions are,’ he said.To indicate their rejection of such a statement, they are planning to hold a demonstration and prayer meeting outside the DPRP office on Wednesday.
EXCLUSIVE: A leaked letter from an Army General reveals Indonesia’s attempts to disband a West Papuan church with threats of “assertive action”
From the outside looking in, the latest church conflict in West Papua might look like just another example of factional Protestant politics. A little sordid perhaps, but irrelevant to all but the parties involved.
Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds something far more disturbing.
A leaked letter from the head of the Indonesian Army in Papua obtained by New Matilda reveals that far from being an internal church matter, the conflict between Kingmi Indonesia, a Protestant church that has parishes across Indonesia, and the breakaway Kingmi Papua Church, goes to the heart of the Indonesian government’s attempt to repress movements for cultural pride and autonomy in the country’s restive Pacific periphery.
In a nutshell, the conflict turns on whether Kingmi Papua has the right to separate from Kingmi Indonesia and set up an autonomous synod, reverting to an arrangement that existed prior to 1982.
The question is this: why has the Indonesian Army become involved? Major-General Erfi Triassunu has waded into a conflict that he himself acknowledges is an internal church matter. In the letter (File Number: R/773/IV/2011) addressed to the Governor of Papua, Barnebus Suebu, dated 30 April 2011 and marked “secret”, Triassunu “respectfully requests” the Governor to arrange a meeting between Kingmi Indonesia and Kingmi Papua. The General also offers himself as a mediator.
The letter continues: “if the conflict cannot be resolved through discussion then assertive action must be taken”.
Let me translate “assertive action”. In East Timor when the Indonesian Army took “assertive action” against the Church, they murdered church workers, massacred parishioners, raped women and burnt churches to the ground. In West Papua too the Indonesian Army has a history of killing pastors from the Kingmi Papua Church, as well as other churches. This dates back to 1 May 1963 when the Indonesian government took administrative control of the territory and has continued up to the present.
Last October a video filmed on soldiers’ mobiles phones and circulated widely on the internet, showed several soldiers from Kostrad, the Indonesian Army’s Strategic Command — Triassunu’s own division — torturing a Papuan church worker by burning his genitals with a stick.
In the letter, Triassunu, who previously served in Aceh, makes a number of accusations. He accuses Kingmi Papua of trying to access as much money as they can from the government’s Special Autonomy programme in order to create new churches. However, the real purpose of building a network of churches, Triassunu insists, is “to strengthen Papuan civil society aspirations for freedom”. He then argues that the Kingmi Papua Church’s desire to be independent of the Indonesian Church is “just an excuse” for “the church to become a political vehicle” that supports Papuan independence.
Triassunu then goes on to make a number of recommendations. He specifically says that Kingmi Papua pastors should stick to Biblical “dogma” and not stray into politics. The General is on solid ground here, following in the footsteps of numerous dictators from Marcos to Pinochet, all notorious for their attempts to stifle meddlesome priests. Triassunu specifically names Reverends Benny Giay (the current moderator of the Kingmi Papua Church), Seblum Karubaba (the former moderator) and Noakh Nawipa (the Rector of the Pos 7 Theological College) as malcontents, mentioning several seminars organised by the trio where “Papua Merdeka” (freedom) was discussed.
All this has echoes of Suharto who systematically depoliticised (read: violently repressed and disbanded) all independent organisations, including religious ones, for fear they could become bases for organised opposition against the regime. Indonesian democrats may have overthrown Suharto but West Papua is not part of a new democratic Indonesia. What is deeply concerning is that in the Papuan context the label “separatist” is regularly applied to Papuan leaders as a pretext for justifying extra-judicial action by security forces.
This is where the plot thickens.
According to the letter, the General decided to become involved in the Kingmi conflict after a Kingmi Indonesia pastor, Reverend Karel Maniani, personally asked the Army to protect his parishioners. But Reverend Maniani himself was previously a member of “Group Nine” of the Papuan Freedom Movement (or OPM). In the 1980s Maniani was jailed for four years in the notorious Kalisosok Prison. What happened to Maniani on the journey from freedom fighter to Army petitioner?
To make things stranger, the conservative US-based evangelical Christian Missionary Association backs Maniani and Kingmi Indonesia against Kingmi Papua. At stake is not only valuable church property and access to Special Autonomy funds, it is also over influence of a broad Papua base. Kingmi Papua has half a million members. Virtually all of them are indigenous Papuans from the fractious Highlands, around a third of the entire Papuan population.
When I asked Benny Giay about all this his reply was revealing. For years he said he was part of a church that was more concerned with “saving souls” than the day-to-day oppression of the Papuans. “The Kingmi church has been complicit with the suffering of the Papuans. We need to confess our sins and follow the narrow path of Jesus. This Gospel is very clear; we must stand with the oppressed and work to alleviate their suffering. I hope we can cast off our fear and stay firm to this path.”
Giay has a vision for an independent Papuan church; a uniquely Papuan church that makes space for Papuans to begin to articulate their own theology, one that sees God present in Papuan history and culture. Giay and his colleagues are slowly building up a church that commits itself to solidarity with the poor and oppressed; one that is led by the Papuans themselves. That may not sound much to a reader unfamiliar with Papuan politics, but in West Papua it is a big deal.
Just ask the General.
SCAN OF ORIGINAL LETTER SIGNED BY MAJ-GEN ERFI TRIASSUNU