Sorry: Indon Army Backs Down Over Threats


By Alex Rayfield

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.

Australian media reports about KINGMI church supporting Papua Merdeka

Bintang Papua, 15 July, 2011


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 report.

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
Church Synod.

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.

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