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Home » , , » Papuans displaced by military operations in the central highlands remain unassisted

Papuans displaced by military operations in the central highlands remain unassisted

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on October 15, 2010 | 2:37 AM

Since May 2010 and particularly in May and June, an unknown number of Papuans, ranging from several hundreds to several thousands, have been reported to be internally displaced in the central highlands region of Puncak Jaya, where the government of Indonesia has been conducting counter-insurgency operations against rebels of the OPM (Free Papua Movement). Fleeing the army’s “sweeping operations”, which are often accompanied by severe human rights violations, most internally displaced people (IDPs) have taken shelter in the jungle, where they have very limited or no access to basic necessities of life including food, shelter, water and health care. Following past waves of violence, displaced Papuans living in similar conditions have faced malnutrition, disease and sometimes death.

The high level of violence and destruction carried out by the armed forces, such as the burning of homes and properties, the destruction of vegetable gardens and other means of livelihoods including livestock, makes the prospects of recovery and durable solutions poor. The recovery process is also hampered by the lack of access to basic services in these very remote places.

Lack of independent access to the conflict-affected areas in the central highlands makes it difficult to get any reliable estimates on the number of people affected by the military operations, or to assess the IDPs’ humanitarian needs and to provide assistance. The government generally does not recognise people displaced by conflict in Papua as IDPs and provides no specific assistance.

Host communities and church groups are the main providers of assistance, but the church groups as well as human rights NGOs have often been viewed with suspicion by the government, which has considered some as too close to the OPM and as supporting separatism. Activities of international organisations are also limited and closely monitored. Since 2009, a number of international organisations, including ICRC and more recently Cordaid, have been banned from the Papuan provinces. THIS SOURCE

Indonesia gained independence shortly after the end of World War II, but the Netherlands retained control over the western part of the island of New Guinea, then known as Dutch West Guinea. Under pressure from the international community and in particular the United States, which needed an ally in the region in its fight against communism, the Netherlands handed over control of the resource-rich colony to a transitional UN administration in 1962.

Indonesia assumed control of Papua in 1963 and started asserting its authority, mainly through military force. Estimates of the number of Papuans who died as a result of military operations by the Indonesian army between 1962 and 1969 range from several thousands to 30,000 (Drooglever, Pieter, 22 September 2010, p.3; Braithwaite, John, March 2010, p.61). This period saw the emergence of the Free Papua Movement (
Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM), which in 2010 remains the main armed rebel group in Papua. In 1969, in the controversial UN-supervised Act of Free Choice, representatives carefully selected by the Indonesian government almost unanimously chose to join Indonesia. Papua officially became an Indonesian province known first as West Irian, then Irian Jaya, and finally Papua. In 2003, the province was divided into two smaller provinces, West Papua and Papua.

In 2001, Papua was granted “special autonomy” which entailed an increased share of the revenue generated by the exploitation of its natural resources (Jakarta Post, 19 June 2010). However, an independent assessment conducted six years later concluded that widespread corruption had prevented the special autonomy from making any positive difference to the lives of Papuans (USAID, February 2009, p.78). The extra resources do not appear to have benefited more than a small elite of corrupted government civil servants and have certainly not led to concrete social or economic programmes benefiting indigenous Papuans (CPCS, July 2010, p.18; Braithwaite, John, March 2010, p.87). According to the International Crisis Group (ICG): “Many provisions [of the law] were implemented slowly, poorly or not at all, eroding whatever good will was generated by the law.” (ICG, 11 March 2010, p.4) In August 2010, the government announced that the impact of special autonomy would be evaluated in 2011 (Jakarta Post, 1 August 2010).

Development and human security indicators in Papua are the lowest in Indonesia, with those in the displacement-affected central highlands the worst of all. Health data collected by M├ędecins du Monde in these areas shows that infant mortality rates are about 85-150 per 1000 live births, and maternal mortality rates are three times higher than in the rest of the country at 500-1000 per 100,000 births (Rees, Susan J.; Van de Pas, Remco; Silove, Derrick and Kareth, Moses, 2008, p.641). There is a shortage of doctors but also of medical facilities as well as essential medicines. Water and sanitation facilities are inadequate, in particular in rural areas (USAID, February 2009, p.112) The rate of HIV/AIDS was 1.0 per cent in Papua in 2008, compared to a national average of 0.17 per cent. In the central highlands, the rate was 2.9 per cent, indicating a growing HIV epidemic. According to M├ędecins du Monde, it may reach five per cent by 2011 (MDM, August 2010, p.3).

Access to education is also a major problem in remote areas most affected by displacement, mainly because of the shortage of schools and teachers. In Puncak Jaya regency in the central highlands, it is estimated that 49 per cent of children never attended or completed primary school (Mollet, Julius Ary 2007, p.158). Children’s access to education is further limited by recurrent episodes of forced displacement and by the destruction of schools during sweeping operations (HRW, 5 July 2007, p.32).

Disillusioned with special autonomy, and facing increasing demographic, economic, social, political and military pressures, many Papuans are again pinning their hopes on independence. In June 2010, the Papuan People’s Council (MRP), a body established under the special autonomy legislation to protect Papuan cultural values, made a list of recommendations to the Papua legislature which included a rejection of special autonomy, mediation from the international community, and a referendum on Papua’s independence (Jakarta Globe, 30 August 2010). Developments outside Papua have also bolstered demands for independence. In June 2010, the Vanuatu parliament passed an act calling on its government to develop policies to support Papua’s independence struggle. In particular, Vanuatu intends through the UN General Assembly to request an “advisory opinion” from the International Court of Justice on the legality of Indonesia’s claim of sovereignty over Papua (ABC, 21 June 2010).
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