Shocking footage emerges from Sunset Merona raids

Highly distressing video footage has emerged showing the aftermath of the Sunset Merona operation on West Papuan refugee settlements in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea earlier this year. The Sunset Merona operation was conducted by members of Papua New Guinea’s police and defence forces following heavy diplomatic pressure by the Indonesian authorities.

The footage provides compelling evidence of violation of the UN Charter for Refugees, and is being forwarded to the UN.

Highly distressed women and children are seen amongst the charred remains of their villages, and there are also interviews with those who fled describing what happened. More than 6 months on, many of these refugees are still hiding in the jungle with limited access to food, water and shelter.   The footage was filmed by Australian filmmaker David Fedele.

Please follow the link below to see this report.

If you are from a media organisation and would like to get access to further footage for national media reporting, please get back in touch to alezev(at)


Related Articles

RNZI: PNG soldiers storm home of suspended West Sepik Police Commander

note: West Papua Media is also following this story closely, but has unable to access its sources on the ground in Vanimo.  We are gravely concerned as to their safety given the current climate of impunity against witnesses of the confused border security operation Sunset Merona..
RNZI may have better success, but this is not a competition.

Please continue to follow this story closely, updates will be made available when sources are able to safely file.

for background, see

RNZI: PNG soldiers storm home of suspended West Sepik Police Commander

Posted at 05:06 on 07 February, 2011 UTC

Papua New Guinea soldiers allegedly stormed the home of West Sepik’s suspended provincial police commander Chief Inspector Sakawar Kasieng and threatened his family yesterday.

The newspaper, The National, reports that the ten soldiers were taking part in a border security crackdown called Operation Sunset Merona in and around the provincial capital Vanimo.

The operation has been underway for three weeks with more than 100 people arrested and detained for alleged illegal movement across the border from Indonesia.

Mr Kasieng says that the soldiers pointed guns at his family, ordering them all to stay indoors without any explanation.

He has been told by police from Port Moresby that he is charged with treason, and is due to be questioned at the police command centre in Vanimo today.

Mr Kasieng was reportedly suspended last month after refusing to allow policemen on Operation Sunset Merona entry into his local police station headquarters after one of his men was allegedly beaten up by a group of visiting task force officers.

News Content © Radio New Zealand International
PO Box 123, Wellington, New Zealand

West Papua Report February 2011

West Papua Report
February 2011

This is the 82nd in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at If you wish to receive the report via e-mail, send a note to


An Indonesian military tribunal failed to properly prosecute military personnel for the torture of two Papuans whose agony was viewed around the world online in October 2010. Instead, the tribunal convicted three soldiers for the minor offense of “disobeying orders,” sentencing them to between eight and ten months imprisonment. This failure to prosecute the soldiers to the full extent of the law and to try them in a civilian court was broadly criticized by Indonesian and international observers, including the U.S. State Department. U.S., UK and Australian organizations called for suspension of foreign assistance to the Indonesian military which continues to violate human rights with impunity, particularly in West Papua. President Yudhoyono’s pre-sentencing description of the torture as a “minor incident” was prejudicial and contributed to an atmosphere of impunity. Papuans, organized by leading Papuan churches and other organizations demonstrated in large numbers calling for abolition of the Peoples Consultative Council (MRP). The body was created by the widely-rejected 2001 “Special Autonomy” law. Prisoners of Conscience Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni continue to languish in police custody following a December 3 prison riot. They suffer from health-threatening conditions and do not have regular access to their families or to legal counsel. Papua New Guinea security personnel attacked villages and encampments of West Papuan civilians living in PNG territory near the border with Indonesia. PNG authorities have detained nine of the scores of people displaced, who were moved into camps or have fled into the forests. Their plight, particularly those who were chased into forests, is uncertain.West Papuan students continue to call for dialogue in the wake of the failure of “special autonomy.” They note that the central government has failed to issue implementing regulations required to give the decade-old law life.


No Justice for Papuan Victims of Torture

A military court in Jayapura on January 24 sentenced three military personnel to eight to ten, months imprisonment for the torture of two Papuans in May 2010. The torture, video of which was posted online in October 2010, had become emblematic of the Indonesian military’s decades of abuse targeting Papuans. The Indonesian government’s failure to prosecute the perpetrators in a civilian court, and its acquiescence to military insistence that the three only be prosecuted for the minor offense of “disobeying orders” showed the persistence of military impunity for crimes against humanity in West Papua. President Yudhoyono reinforced this sense of impunity for military perpetrators by dismissing the torture as a “minor incident” in prejudicial pre-sentencing comments to military leaders.

International condemnation of this miscarriage of justice was swift and universal.

In addition to condemnation from human rights organizations, the verdict prompted unusually blunt criticism from the U.S. Government. U.S. State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the sentences “do not reflect the seriousness of the abuses of two Papuan men depicted in 2010 video.” He added that “Indonesia must hold its armed forces accountable for violations of human rights. We are concerned and will continue to follow this case.”

On January 25, Australian Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam demanded that the Government cut all military ties with Indonesia. He said the conduct of the Indonesian government showed a “total lack of respect for human rights…. What we have here is an open and shut case of severe torture, with video evidence, and the soldiers responsible will spend, at most, 10 months in prison and then continue their careers in the Indonesian army – they won’t even be discharged. It is a disgrace – an absolute disgrace,”

Video of the torture shows the soldiers burn one man’s genitals, suffocate him with a plastic bag, and hold a knife to his throat. One victim said he was beaten for two days, held over a fire and had chillies rubbed into his wounds. “First the Indonesian authorities claimed their soldiers were not responsible, and then charged them with ‘disobeying orders’. It was a pathetic response from a government that couldn’t care less about the human rights of the Papuan people,” said Senator Ludlam.

He called on the Australian Government must cut military and paramilitary ties with Indonesia: “Why are we helping to train and arm these soldiers? Why do we fund the Indonesian National Police when its Detachment 88, a so-called counter-terrorism unit, has been linked to a series of human rights abuses? While human rights abuses, while torture continues in Papua and Maluku, we can not fund and train the people responsible.”

The Australian Greens call for a substantive response by the Australian government was echoed in a joint statement by the U.S. based West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the UK-based TAPOL. They urged the U.S. Government to suspend military assistance to the Indonesian military and called on the U.S., Britain. and the European Union to “promptly and publicly register with the Indonesian government their deep concern over what is only this latest example of decades of failed justice in West Papua.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also criticized the judicial travesty in Jayapura. Amnesty International’s Laura Haigh said “The fact that the victims were too frightened to testify due to the lack of adequate safety guarantees raises serious questions about the trial process.”

Amnesty added that “as a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Indonesia is legally bound to prohibit torture and other ill-treatment in all circumstances.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, called the outcome “disappointing” and highlighted irregularities in the court-martial. “There were six men depicted in the video but only three were brought to trial…. The military dragged their feet in this investigation and showed minimum effort, and it shows that they were just trying to get the international pressure off their back.”

The reaction in Indonesia was also damning. Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), urged that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) take over the investigation. “Although this court-martial has concluded, there is still the torture charge and the need to try these soldiers at an independent human rights tribunal,” Poengky told the Jakarta Globe. She also called for systemic reform: “The government and the House of Representatives must amend the law on military tribunals, which has been a major obstacle in prosecuting military officials under civilian law.”

She added that while the Indonesian government had ratified the UN Convention Against Torture more than a decade ago, the Military Criminal Code and its Code of Conduct still failed to define torture as a punishable offense.

The Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) revealed that the Indonesian military did not use all the evidence available. Komnas Ham commissioner Ridha Saleh told the Jakarta Globe that the government agency had offered its own findings to the military “but to no avail.” He added that Komnas Ham was conducting its own investigations, but “whether those investigations will lead to re-prosecution, a recommendation or the formation of a fact-finding team, we don’t know yet.”

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said that “lenient sentences were proof that the TNI was reluctant to reform.”  Kontras member Syamsul Alam Rizal said that the lenient sentencing would “solidify military impunity.” He warned further that “the lenient verdict would “justify torture as a tool in extracting testimonies from civilians.”

Sergeant Irwan Riskianto, deputy commander of Gurage Military Post, was accused of ordering the torture received 10 months in jail. Privates Yakson Agu and Private Thamrin Makangiri – were sentenced to nine and eight months respectively. The charge has a maximum sentence of 30 months.

WPAT Comment: The TNI response to the tsunami of domestic and international criticism – a pledge to ramp up human rights training for its personnel -has been employed before, notably in the late 1990’s when it even engaged the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct rights training. Such window dressing fails to address the central issue: TNI personnel (and their commanders) know that violating the human rights of civilians, especially Papuans, will merit only a slap on the wrist. President Yudhoyono’s calling the torture sessions, one of which extended over a two day period, a “minor incident” only reinforces the impression among TNI personnel that a uniform provides a license to torture.The resort to a military tribunal to try military personnel for crimes against civilians is a consequence of the 1997 Military Court Law which gives jurisdiction in such cases to the military courts. There is no discernable efforts either within the government or the parliament to reform this Suharto-era law.

Churches Lead Papuans in Renewed Rejection of Special Autonomy Demand Dissolution of Powerless “Papuan Peoples Assembly”

Papuans in late January demonstrated peacefully and in large numbers called for the dissolution of Papuan Peoples Assembly (MRP) created by the 2001 Special Autonomy Law, but widely viewed as a powerless institution.

Demonstrations were staged in Sorong, Manokwari, Jayapura, Serui, Biak, Nabire, Merauke, Mimika and Wamena. In Jayapura, demonstrators peacefully occupied the MRP itself. For the first time since Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua, a broad array of Papuan church leaders took the lead in organizing the demonstrations. Among those playing a key organizing role were chairs of various synods including: Rev. Dr. Benny Giay, Chairman of Christian Tabernacle Church (KINGMI), Rev. Yemima Krey, Chairman of GKI Synod, Rev. Socrates Yoman, Chairman of Baptist Church and Rev. Tommy Isfandy, Chairman of Synod Bethel Pentecostal Church.

The MRP, was established in 2005 as a cultural representative institution of indigenous Papuans purportedly to address accusations that the interests of the province’s native population were being sidelined in favor of Java-centric government policies. It has been routinely ignored by the central government. For example, Jakarta refused to consult it regarding the division of West Papua into multiple provinces.

The demonstrators called for cancellation of plans to select new members for the MRP. (The new members of the assembly are being chosen by special committees set up in each district and city. The terms of the current MRP members officially ended last October, but because of delays starting the selection process, they were extended until the end of January.) “We reject the special autonomy for Papua. Consequently, the council, which was established following the granting of special autonomy, should be disbanded,” Reverend Giay told the media. “Special autonomy” had failed to improve the welfare of Papuans and only brought advantages to newcomers from other islands, he added.

The Papuan people, through a council plenary session on June 9-10, 2010, had called upon the provincial parliaments to return the special autonomy mandate to the central government (See West Papua Report July 2010).

In Mimika on January 25, hundreds of Papuans rallied outside the district legislature to protest over the selection of MRP members. Protesters, calling themselves the Papua Solidarity Society, carried banners that read “Disband the MRP;” “All Papuans Declare the MRP a Failure;” and “Send the MRP Back to Jakarta.” Vincent Onijoma, the protest coordinator, said both autonomy and the formation of the MRP had failed to bring to an end to violations of human rights by the security forces. Those taking part in the protest included representatives of churches, student groups, tribal associations, and women’s groups.

Earlier in January,organizers of the demonstrations distributed guidelines setting out their key objectives, also laid out in a January 10 letter to Indonesian President Yudhoyono. The religious leaders called on the central government to respect the decision of the Papuan people to reject “Special Autonomy” as expressed in mass popular demonstrations in June (the “Musyawarah Besar”) and the 11 resolutions which emerged from the mass gatherings (see West Papua Report July 2010). In their letter, the religious leaders called on the governors of Papua and West Papua to forego the selection of new members for the MRP and to sit jointly with the two Papuan parliaments to formally reject “Special Autonomy.” The religious leaders also renewed calls for a central government dialogue with Papuans to address the legal and political status of the region. Finally, the January 10 letter called on President Yudhoyono to order an end to intimidation, terror, and repression of Papuan people.

Two Political Prisoners Face Health Threatening Conditions in Legally Unjustified Police Detention

Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni, internationally recognized political prisoners, have faced isolation, inadequate access to food and water, and restricted contact with their families and legal counsel for nearly two months. Police removed the pair from Abepura prison to detention at Abepura police headquarters following a December 3, 2010 riot at the prison (See WPAT/ETAN: Indonesia Respect Rights of Papuan Prisoners Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni). Neither has been formally charged in the riot and both contend that they had attempted to mediate between prison authorities and inmates before the riot erupted.

In a January 18 letter to the Chief of Police in West Papua, Tabuni requested that the police explain his legal status, and specifically whether he is a detainee (tapol) or a convicted political prisoner (narapidana). He also asked that if he is being held in police custody for a role in the December 3 riot that he be presented with an arrest warrant. Tabuni also detailed his deteriorating health due to inadequate food, water and access to fresh air and sunlight. He said that during his detention, his father, under pressure of the plight of his son, had “suffered a stroke, fainted and died.” In late January the police sought to declare Buchtar Tabuni a “suspect” in the December 3 riot. Tabuni, who was not accompanied by a lawyer when he was questioned. refused to sign the police document.

The family of Filep Karma has also expressed public concern over the state of his health, also noting the inadequate of food and water.

Under Indonesian law the police may hold a suspect for 60 days without charges. That 60 day limit expires on February 3.

Papua New Guinea Military and Police Attack Villages and Encampments of Papuan Civilians in PNG

Papua New Guinea security forces have launched an operation targeting purportedly West Papuans living illegally in the PNG town of Vanimo and its environs near the northeast border with West Papua. The operation, named “Sunset Merona,” was originally justified as a law enforcement exercise to counter the illegal flow of goods across the border from Indonesian military (TNI) sources that were hurting indigenous PNG businesses. The operation was also to ensure there were no illegal workers within the logging companies from Malaysia and Indonesia operating in the border region. The operation initially focused on remote border camps and villages and made arrests of logging workers and Indonesian military personnel. Tt is believed these initial arrestees were released to make way for refugee arrests after protest from Indonesian diplomatic representatives in Vanimo.

Various sources located in Papua as well as Australia (notably West Papua Media Alerts edited by Nick Chesterfield) have reported on the ongoing operation by a special “joint military and police taskforce” which has displaced approximately 80 men, women and children, so far. More than 30 homes have been destroyed. PNG authorities have placed many of the displaced in a temporary camp while an unknown number of others have fled to the forest. (See )

The large number of children among those displaced, reportedly more than a third, has prompted expressions of concern by human rights organizations and observers. The special taskforce police in charge of the camps have reportedly refused to provide food for the displaced, but are permitting the local Vanimo Roman Catholic Diocese to provide meals.

According to West Papua Media Alerts, PNG authorities have charged nine men among those picked up with unspecified charges relating to armed activities. Refugee advocates have denied, however, that these people are resident of the camps raided. West Papua. As of late January none of the nine have yet had access to legal representation.

On January 23, police and soldiers from Port Moresby torched 19 houses at Blakwara refugee camp outside Vanimo and trucked the residents to the Vanimo Police Station. According to Barias Jikwa, coordinator of West Papuan refugees living in Vanimo, security personnel also destroyed food and crops at the camp. In Yako, security forces burned 18 houses and destroyed residents’ possessions and food gardens. Yako camp housed over 50 families forced out of Blakwara camp by threats from local landowners allegedly in league with Indonesian military-linked logging interests.

The task force also attacked the villages of Dawi, Wara Duanda, Musu, Dasi, Warakarap, Ambas, Bebfsi and Skotchiou. Security forces razed houses at Dawi (4 houses), Bebfsi (3) and Musu (at least 4). Local human rights monitors are still attempting to confirm the situation in other villages. According to West Papua Media Alerts, there have been no confirmed reports to date that any person has been shot or any weapons discharged in these operations. There have been allegations of severe mistreatment (beatings) in Blakwara and Yako, with at least ten people still in the Vanimo Hospital being treated for their injuries.

Local sources also report that villagers and refugees fled to the surrounding jungle prior to the raids. Among those fleeing reportedly were large numbers of guerrillas who have been asked by PNG Defense Force to surrender.

Jerry Frank, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) commander of the joint forces for Operation Sunset Merona, told media that all the arrested people are separatists despite clear information that almost all refugees at the attacked camps had been registered as refugees and/or “permissive residents” for many years, and many were non-political. Radio New Zealand International reported that PNG authorities have arbitrarily decided that anyone found not be a citizen of PNG will be considered an OPM activist and sent to the overflowing East Awin refugee camp which is under the control of the UNHCR and attended closely by Catholic relief agencies. However, PNG’s acting deputy police commissioner Fred Yakasa acknowledged that they cannot return refugees to Indonesia to face possible arrest or execution. “It would be wrong to send those people back to Papua to an unknown fate,” Yakasa stated.

PNG is home to around 12,000 West Papuan refugees who fled Indonesian state violence in several major waves since Indonesian annexed West Papua in 1962. Several hundred refugees accepted facilitated repatriation last year with guarantees of land. In PNG, “permissive non-citizens” are allowed to work but not to gain any legal certainty in housing, education or citizenship.

The refugee relief NGO WPRRA called for the PNG government to be held accountable for its “inhuman operations against refugees who took refuge in PNG due to Indonesian brutality,” and that the governments of Vanuatu, New Zealand and others assist these displaced West Papuan refugees in seeking asylum in a third country. WPRRA has also called on the international community to assist in “ensuring the fundamental rights of West Papuans in PNG are respected and protected according to the international law on refugees and human rights.”

West Papua Media Alerts reports that the UNHCR is concerned about the attacks on refugees and the potential for inappropriate actions to escalate. “Our PNG Representative is closely monitoring the situation and in contact with the relevant authorities to ensure the principle of non-refoulement is being respected as the situation becomes clearer,” said Richard Towle, Australia/ PNG Regional Representative for UNHCR.

Papuan Students Say Special Autonomy Has Failed and Mediated Dialogue Is Essential

A Jakarta Post report highlights efforts by Papuan students in Jakarta to persuade the Indonesian government to cancel the 2001 “Special Autonomy” law for West Papua. The students accused the central government of failing to properly implement special autonomy and called for dialogue mediated by a third party to find a solution to the many problems plaguing the region.

Marten Goo from the National Forum for Papuan Students demanded a government review of the 2001 law, arguing that Article 78 of the law requires that the implementation of the law be evaluated every year, with the first evaluation conducted three years after the inception of the law. Marten contended that the government was responsible for existing conflicts in West Papua and even created new conflicts to retain control over Papua’s natural resources.

“With so many problems, including poverty, human rights violations and corruption,” he said, “the central government is halfhearted in implementing special autonomy.” Marten added that the government had deliberately not issued regulations to implement the law in order to keep Papua on a leash. “There is no implementing regulation to support the 2001 law. Therefore everything must be consulted with the central government, which has the power to intervene,” he said. Marten also called for the Papua People’s Council (MRP) to be disbanded and to call off its plans to elect members for the 2011 tenure. (See above for details protests across West Papua calling for the abolition of the MRP.)

“The central government never listens to the Council, which represents Papuans. The government also tried to infiltrate the Council through a Home Ministry decree on Jan. 13, which violates the autonomy law,” he said. That ministerial decree defines Papuans as Melanesians from Papuan indigenous tribes and/or those who are accepted and recognized as indigenous Papuans. (WPAT Comment: There have been allegations that the central government sought to infiltrate non-Papuans into the MRP through this decree.)

Agus Kosay from the Central Mountain Papua Indonesia Students Association (AMPTPI) also speaking in Jakarta on January 27, called special autonomy was “a new form of colonialism.” “Special autonomy was touted as a win-win solution to protect Papuans in terms of empowerment and welfare. But what has happened is that we barely feel safe now,” he said. Agus highlighted the fact that many Papuans still faced discrimination. “There are also numerous cases of human rights violations by security forces, including torture and shooting.”

He said Papuan students and activists faced threats for expressing their opinions. Marten agreed, saying that the central government was in violation of its own law. “Articles 43 to 45 of the autonomy law refer to the protection of indigenous Papuans and their rights. But the military keeps torturing and intimidating Papuans,” he said.

Back issues of West Papua Report

posted at


Below is the full letter from PNG NCDC Governor Powes Parkop calling for Somare to immediately halt Operation Sunset Merona.  For bode fide media interview opportunities, and the copy of the original letter please contact West Papua Media at wpmedia_admin<at> .


Office of the Governor

Hon. Powes Parkop, MP

P.O. Box 7270, Boroko. NCD




Date        28th January 2011

Grand Chief Sir Michael T Somare GCL, GCMG, CF, CL, CH, KstJ

Prime Minister and Chairman of NEC,

Office of the Prime Minister,

Morauta House,


National Capital District


Dear Prime Minister,




I write to express my deepest concern and reservation against the on going Police Operation in the Sanduan or West Sepik Province otherwise known as Operation “Sunset Merona” .

Since the operation began, I have received many complaints from people in the Sanduan Province as to the conduct and focus of the operations. These Complaints have been received from ordinarily citizens in that Province but more particularly from West Papuan people who live in that Province either as refugees or traditional border crossers exercising their rights under the Border Agreement between the Independent State of Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Indonesia.


From the West Papuan people, I have received complaints of intimidations, harassment, houses being demolished and burnt, food gardens being destroyed and people being detained without being charged for a criminal or migration offence. Those arrested have included West Papuans who have comes to PNG as refuges and who have to fend for themselves due to lack of support from either the PNG Government or from the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees.


From the evidence and reports I have received and the from the conduct of the operation it has become obvious that this operation is targeted against West Papuan people either as refugees or suspect activist of the West Papuan struggle for independence. In this respect, while I acknowledged that as an Independent State, we are obliged to prevent our borders from being using as a sanctuary for people planning and conducting violent acts against another State, we also risked allowing ourselves to become involved in a dispute that we formally recognized as being the domestic affairs of the Republic of Indonesia. Worst still we will allow ourselves to be used by the Republic of Indonesia to suppress and intimidate West Papuan people from pursuing their legitimate struggle for independence.


Based on these reports and evidence, I appeal to your highest Office to immediately stop the operations as it is becoming obvious that our Government and therefore police are being used by the  Indonesian Government to harass and suppress suspected West Papua activist campaigning for Independence of West Papua. This is morally and legally wrong.


While the Government may not support the struggle of West Papuans people to self determination and independence, we have no right to suppress them or deprive them from exercising that right. The right to self determination is universally recognized rights recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and under many United Nations Conventions. This right to self determination includes the right to bear arms and used armed struggle as a means to attain self determination. Many colonized people have used arms struggle as a means of exercising or realizing their rights to self determination where the colonial powers have denied them an opportunity to exercise that right peacefully. West Papuan people as a colonized people, deprived of peacefully exercising their right to self determination have the right to bear arms and used all other means to enable them to realize their rights to self determination.


There is no evidence to date to show that the West Papuan people are using our territory to conduct armed attack against the Republic of Indonesia.  The evidence to date shows that all armed attack conducted by West Papuan people has been conducted within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia. If its is an offence to peacefully advocate and support the rights of the people of West Papua to self determination and Independence, than I should be arrested too as I have been a long time advocate of West Papuan rights to self determination and independence. And there are thousands of Papua New Guineans who also support and advocate for the rights of West Papuans to self determination and independence.


I therefore urge you as Prime Minister and a person revered as a leader of Melanesian People and Pacific People to stop our police and security forces from being used as a tool of suppression at the behest of the Indonesian Government. I urge you to recommend to the Commission for Police to put an end to this operation and to release all West Papuan people who have been detained and to compensate those who have their houses and food gardens destroyed.


Further, Prime Minister, I urge you not to deport any West Papuan suspected of being involved in the independence struggle to the Republic of Indonesia. I draw in this respect the recent conviction of three members of the members of the Indonesian Military as a result of torturing of West Papuans. While there three men were convicted for a minor offence, the incident for which they charge was fully exposed in a video posted on the internet which was seen by the entirely international community. This incident confirms that while Indonesia is moving towards democratization, its armed forces are still involved in vicious acts of violence and torture against so called separatist. There is  no guarantee that any one deported to the Republic of Indonesia will safe or not subjected to torture or other forms of violence.






Due to public interest in this matter, I will be releasing copy of my letter to the public, including the media.



I look forward to you earliest reply.



Yours Sincerely





Governor and Member for NCD Provincial.


PNG troops burn down border West Papua refugee camps as refugees flee to the jungle

by Nick Chesterfield and local sources
January 28, 2011

Scenes of terror and destruction have erupted around Papua New Guinea’s frontier town of Vanimo, as an unprecedented and contentious PNG military operation against unarmed West Papuan refugees has arrested scores and burned over 30 houses to the ground.

79 people (28 Men, 24 Women and 27 Children) are currently being held in cramped and hot conditions at an interim processing facility outside the Vanimo Police Station, which has been taken over by police from Port Moresby after local police refused to cooperate.  Special taskforce Police are refusing to provide meals, which are having to be supplied by the local Vanimo catholic diocese, although there are no current allegations of mistreatment whilst in custody.

Nine men have been charged with unspecified charges relating to armed activities though refugee advocates have denied that these people are resident of the camps raided.  Enquiries by West Papua Media have found none have access to legal representation at this stage.

On January 23 at Blackwater refugee camp outside Vanimo, 19 houses were set on fire by Police and Soldiers from Port Moresby,  while residents were rounded up on trucks and taken to Vanimo Police Station.  According to a detailed witness report provided by the coordinator of West Papuan refugees living in Vanimo, Barias Jikwa, the operation began at 1:00 am local time when houses were surrounded, and houses began to be razed at 04:00 am.  Troops then used spades and guns to destroy the refugees’ food and edible crops.

Border Security Operation

Confusion and official intransigence has surrounded the border security Operation Sunset Merona. by PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), Police, Customs, and Foreign Affairs officials.  Troops from PNGDF’s 1st Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (1RPIR) flew in from Port Moresby in January under the command of Joint Forces Commander Jerry Frank together with out of area general
police officers from Boroko, Bomana, Gordons, and Waigani.  The elite and often notorious Mobile Brigade were not included in the operation, although human rights sources have drawn attention to the standard operating procedure of house burnings that Mobile Brigade have employed with squatters and landowners affected by mining and forestry.

Sunset Merona was originally announced as a law enforcement exercise to counter the illegal flow of goods across the border from Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI) sources that were hurting indigenous PNG businesses, and to ensure there were no illegal workers within the logging companies from Malaysia and Indonesia operating at the PNG – West
Papua border.  Most shops in Vanimo are owned by non-Papuans, and all sell goods of non-PNG origin at marked up prices, but still vastly cheaper than PNG produced goods.  To date, there is no verifiable information that vendors of illegal goods have been caught up the security dragnet.

According to the West Papuan Refugee Relief Association (WPRRA) in Vanimo, a registered NGO, the raids were carried out “after a week of operation on the legal permits and identities of logging workers from Malaysia and Indonesia who spread across Vanimo, Madang and Wewak and besides logging activities, who also dominate the marketplaces of those provinces right now.”

The offensive, dubbed a politically motivated stunt by dissident members of PNG security forces, descended on remote border camps and villages and made arrests of logging workers and Indonesian military personnel, though it is believed these initial arrestees were released to make way for Refugee arrests after protest from Indonesian diplomatic representatives in Vanimo.
Up to 700 personnel are reportedly involved across PNG, though the joint force in Vanimo currently numbers only 150 personnel.

The offensive is exposing deep divisions in PNG security personnel, with several local security officers being stood down during the operation for “refusing to work for Indonesian interests”.  One security source who wished to remain anonymous said “This operation is a stunt; a political charade”.  He went on to further explain that the sudden change of tactic may have also been created by a hazy early January violent incident between Indonesian and PNGDF soldiers inside Batas, the vast TNI owned shopping complex just metres from the PNG border at Wutung.

After several weeks of rumours and uncertainty surrounding the true purpose of Sunset Merona, the operation has deteriorated into an offensive against Indonesia’s enemies in PNG, the West Papuan people.  “Once again, this stunt operation is deeply suspicious in its timing, with Indonesia currently engaged in a systematic sweep and terror campaign for nonviolent activists from Jayapura to the border.  The questions PNG people need to have answered is, are these two offensives working in conjunction with one another, and what kind of Melanesians are we to do the Jakarta’s work?”

In Yako village, 18 houses were burned down, and possessions and food gardens were systematically destroyed by troops.  Yako camp housed over 50 families forced out of Blakwara camp by threats from local landowners allegedly in league with Indonesian military linked logging interests.

A spokesperson for the Blakwara community, Yalli Jikwa, 39,  said “The arrest of villagers and burning of houses is a violation of our rights as refugees, and the PNG government must take responsibility for its actions.”

Also under attack were the villages of Dawi, Wara Duanda, Musu, Dasi, Warakarap, Ambas, Bebfsi and Skotchiou.  Houses have been confirmed razed at Dawi (4 houses), Bebfsi (3) and Musu (At least 4), with unconfirmed reports of every other village targeted having burnt houses.  Local human rights monitors are still attempting to confirm the situation in other villages.

There have been no confirmed reports to date that any person has been shot or any weapons discharged in these operations so far.  Some early allegations of severe mistreatment (beatings) in Blakwara and Yako, with over at least ten people still in the Vanimo Hospital currently being treated for their injuries.

Local human rights sources have reported that all villagers and refugees fled to the surrounding jungle prior to the raids,  and have not retaliated.  Amongst those fleeing were large numbers of guerrillas who have been asked by PNGDF to surrender,  but are so far ignoring the request.

The RPNGC commander of Joint Forces for Operation Sunset Merona, Jerry Frank, has described all the arrested people as separatists despite clear information that almost all refugees at the attacked camps had been registered as refugees and/or permissive residents for many years, and many were non political.

Radio NZ International has reported that PNG authorities have arbitrarily decided that anyone found not be a citizen of PNG will be considered an OPM activist and sent to East Awin refugee camp, which although overflowing, is under the control of the UNHCR and attended closely by Catholic relief agencies.  However, PNG’s acting deputy police commissioner Fred Yakasa
acknowledged that they cannot return refugees to Indonesia to face possible arrest or execution .  “It would be wrong to send those people back to Papua to an unknown fate,” Yakasa stated.  “We respect Indonesia and West Irian as an integral part of Indonesia and that respect is there and we just want to make sure no rebel activity or anything of that nature advances on our side of the border.”

Dissident police officers in Sandaun see it differently.  “Far from defending PNGs sovereignty, we are asking `how high’ before the TNI thugs even tell us to jump,” explained a senior security source in Sandaun on condition of anonymity.  “It is like somebody fears they lose out on their logging spoils”.

West Papuan refugees spoken with by West Papua Media also paint an entirely different picture to that put forward by Somare’s operation.  They have accused the Prime Minister Michael Somare of acceding to clandestine Indonesian demands, and acting preserve his alleged business interests with the Indonesian military.

“How dare he treat his own wantoks like this for the Indonesians.  We are not Indonesians, We are West Papuans, which is why we fled from the brutality of the Indonesian military year after year.  Our whole lives have been in limbo in Papua New Guinea, denied education, denied jobs, even when some of us have been welcomed as wantoks by good hearted PNG folk.  And now this criminal Somare is treating peaceful refugees like this just so he can please his bosses in Jakarta and  safeguard his retirement bilas (trinkets),”  said one elderly West Papuan refugee who was too angry to give his name when spoken to by West Papua Media by phone yesterday.

PM Somare recently stood aside pending investigation on corruption and official misconduct charges, but has quietly reinstated himself into the Prime Ministership functions with little protest from PNG political figures, many of whom also have documented involvement with Indonesian military business interests.  However this operation has been in planning for several months, with almost K2.5 million budgeted for a six week initial operation, with the possibility of extension.

Local Business Complexities
Refugee spokespeople have alluded to local business interests playing a significant role in the evictions, which local security sources have confirmed.  Most refugee camps targeted in this operation are surrounded by extremely valuable timber resources, and logging interests and national power politics are playing a significant part in the recent events.

The MP for Vanimo-Green River, Belden Namah, whose family traditionally provide refuge for both the OPM and refugees, has publicly condoned the harsh operations.  As the villages were being razed Namah issued a statement criticising the Sunset Merona personnel, not for their harsh treatment of civilians, but for allegedly encouraging local people to demand logging companies pay for timber they remove from forests. “This is very, very disgraceful,” Namah said, “It is a national disgrace for landowners to be told by security forces to set road blocks to collect road levies, when such infrastructures are national assets,” he said.

Under the PNG Constitution, Land belongs to the people, and it is not legally a national asset unless a specific act of Parliament has been enacted.  Under these provisions, resource companies must legally pay for compensation for land they damage and resources they expropriate.  Somare (and Namah) in June rammed through a change to the Environment and Conservation Act, but that is deemed by many in PNG to be unconstitutional.

“If they are targeting foreign workers for work permits, passports and other related documents, that is fine, but why are they encouraging the landowners to engage in actions that causes disruption and destructive to the smooth operations of companies in the area….. The security forces must concentrate on the core focus of the operation.”  Namah explained in his statement that this was to destroy OPM camps on the PNG side of the border.

At this point no allegations have been made to West Papua Media that Namah is influencing the operation, but as the local MP and a member of the Sandaun Provincial Security Committee, Namah is in a unique position to do so.   Ironically, Namah came to power on the back of a concerted social movement resisting Indonesian control of logging, helping to create the GVG Moma landowner controlled co-operative ensuring community control and veto over unsustainable logging. “Men, women and children have suffered for a very long time. The Government has abandoned its responsibility to the people, it seems. We must ensure that the benefits to the people are real and sustainable,” Namah explained in 2006.

Despite this, Namah is heavily involved as both a Forestry Minister, and an owner of major forestry businesses in Sandaun which have allegedly perpetrated serious environmental and social abuses against those opposed to unregulated clearance of old growth Papuan Jungle.  GVG Moma, which has increased its harvest since 2006 of highly valuable kwila/merbau, teak and other tropical hardwoods, are seeking to exploit the high value forest on which the refugee camps stand.  According to local security sources, GVG Moma are also currently utilising the same distribution and personnel networks as when the TNI directly controlled Vanimo Forest Products prior to 2006.   The former PNGDF Captain Namah, who was gaoled and pardoned for his leading role in the Sandline mercenary crisis, has attracted significant controversy during his time as Forestry Minster for accruing significant wealth and property across the Pacific.

West Papua analysts have long been concerned about the connection between illegal logging in the area and the Indonesian military business interests having the potential to extend the already serious human rights abuses in West Papua into PNG territory.   Wikileaks recently revealed cables from the US Embassy in Jakarta that accused Indonesian military officers of
deep involvement in illegal logging operations on both sides of the border. A 2006 cable details a briefing from a PNG government official reporting the TNI were ”involved in both illegal logging and drug smuggling in PNG”.

Local human rights and security sources are describing the atmosphere across Sandaun province as highly tense following the launch of the offensive.  Since before PNG independence, there has long been widespread sympathy and tolerance for given West Papuans forced to flee violence safe refuge in the country.  However, PNG also has a strong history of local businesses leaders working closely with Indonesian mercantile interests to clear refugees out of Sandaun, but this is the first time security forces in PNG have acted so blatantly in alliance with Indonesian policy of a military approach to rooting out West Papuan desires for independence.

Rumours are beginning to circulate that many ordinary people supporting West Papuans in Sandaun will take unspecified direct action to protest the treatment of their wantoks.

Local security forces refuse to co-operate.

Reports from security sources on the ground currently in Vanimo have confirmed to West Papua Media that soldiers from the local 2RPIR battalion were sidelined and local units of police were also refusing to cooperate with the operation.

The Provincial Commander of RPNGC in Sandaun Province, Sakuva Kasieng, was suspended by the RPNGC Commissioner for labelling the operation as politically motivated.  West Papua Media unsuccessfully attempted to reach Kasieng for comment.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in December between Kasieng and the representatives of the Free Papua Movement (OPM – Organisasi Papua Merdeka) based in Sandaun, to allow training of OPM forces in civil resistance techniques.  A senior intermediary for OPM units in the area who was responsible for the training, was not available for comment at time of
writing, nor to confirm whether the training was offensive and armed, or for nonviolent civil resistance tactics.  Regular civil resistance training  of refugees by activists and leaders within the nonviolent movement have been conducted for many  years in PNG.

However, refugees have categorically denied that any armed struggle or violence training had been conducted in, near, or with any members of the villages that were targeted by operation Sunset Merona.  “The accusation that these villages were National Liberation Army training bases is completely false. These villages attacked have no connection at all to the TPN, and Somare knows it,” explained Yalli Jikwa.

Security and local sources familiar with the MoU have alleged that a senior (and elderly) Papuan resistance figure was displeased with the training program, and allegedly provided a copy of the MoU to Indonesian Special Forces agents stationed at the Indonesian Consulate in Vanimo.  The sources described a subsequent surprise inspection by an Indonesian “consultant”
to Blakwara camp in mid-December as a catalyst that changed the officially tolerant PNG government attitude to the camps that has been in existence since 1963.

West Papua and security analysts across the Pacific have long feared that cross border “hot pursuit” operations carried by Indonesian troops may draw other countries into a regional conflict.  There is suspicion the TNI has pressured the PNGDF to act as its proxy to achieve its military objectives on neutralising the West Papuan resistance, and therefore avoid the potential for border violation.  However, both Jakarta and Waigani deny this.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs was unable to provide comment prior to deadline.

Uncertainty for Refugees already in Limbo

PNG is home to around 12,000 West Papuan refugees who have fled Indonesian state violence in several major waves since occupation began in 1962.  Several hundred refugees accepted facilitated repatriation last year with  guarantees of land, cash and non-persecution.   However the majority of refugees present say they have a well founded fear of persecution and cannot return.  Refugees are deemed by PNG as permissive non-citizens which enables them to work but not to gain any legal certainty in housing, education or as citizens.

The refugee relief NGO WPRRA are demanding that the PNG government are called to account for their “inhuman operations against refugees who took refuge in PNG due to the Indonesian brutalities”, and that the governments of Vanuatu, New Zealand and others assist these displaced West Papuan refugees to seek asylum in a third country.  WPRRA have also called on the international community to assist in “ensuring the fundamental rights of West Papuans in PNG are respected and protected according to the international law on refugees and human rights.”

The UNHCR is concerned about the attacks on refugees, and potential for inappropriate actions to escalate.  “Our PNG Representative is closely monitoring the situation and in contact with the relevant authorities to ensure the principle of non-refoulement is being respected as the situation becomes clearer,” said Richard Towle, Australia/ PNG Regional Representative for UNHCR.

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