Still living dangerously

REBELLION : Desperate to stop increasingly violent trouble spots from disintegrating into permanent war zones, the Indonesian government and military try everything from appeasement to infiltration to silence independence militias, all to little avail

Dini Djalal in West Papua And Aceh

Members of the Free Papua Movement drill with their primitive weapons in Baliem Valley, the Central Highlands, West Papua province.

Teur Enambori has a simple answer when asked what being an Indonesian means to him. Said the trekking guide and West Papuan independence supporter: “It means being an orphan”.

A native of the Jayawijaya highlands in Indonesia’s easternmost territory, West Papua, Enambori was five months old when the military bombed his village in the late 1970s. His mother hid him in a straw bag outside their hut before she died in the fighting. Had a neighbour not heard his cries and rescued him into the forest, where other villagers cowered in fear, Enambori would have been killed too.

Today Enambori lives in Wamena, a sleepy highland town rudely awakened last weekend when more than 30 people died in a clash between separatists and the police.

The fight was over the “morning star” flag, a symbol that the growing rebel movement is dying, literally, to defend. Similar confrontations have broken out across the province in recent months, and their pattern is identical. The police, ordered by Jakarta to destroy all “rebel” paraphernalia, pulls down the flag as angry activists block their efforts. Police then fire into the crowd. In Wamena, two activists were shot dead and 19 others wounded.

Rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) train with their weapons in the hills outside of Lhokseumawe, Aceh province. _ DINI DJALAL

In Wamena, the fighting was especially fatal. Bands of guerrillas blocked exit points out of the town, then hunted down migrant settlers suspected of sheltering police officers. The warriors retreated back into the jungle as the town burned. It was the most violent day Enambori had seen since his parents’ death.

Two time zones away, violence is a daily reality for the people of Aceh-a province demanding Islamic statehood. As police engage in a shootout with rebels nearby, villagers whisper solemn advice over the crackle of distant gunfire. When enraged, the police are blind, so don’t venture further or the police will shoot you, confides food-vendor Ruslini. Then she disappears into her home, resigned to the fact that, in the bloody battle for independence, the innocent are the victims.


Local militia supporting the Free Papua Movement drill with their primitive weapons in Baliem Valley, the Central Highlands, West Papua province, Indonesia.

Indonesia is a vast archipelago with over 13,000 islands inhabited by hundreds of ethnic groups, and for 32 years, Suharto defied the sceptics by ruling over a country that many regard as ungovernable. Nationalism was made easy under the five-star general: it was simply whatever the military wanted it to be.

Two years have passed since Suharto – and military supremacy – retreated from public view. They are two years of profound social, political, and economic changes: a time of free elections and democratic reforms. But the struggle to define nationhood has been tumultuous. Separatists now tug at opposite ends of the country. Sectarian and ethnic violence threaten to rip apart communities.

Yet Indonesia is not another Yugoslavia. Just as the country’s complex melange of cultures defies simple analysis, the insurgencies which seemingly threaten to destroy the republic are more layered and deceptive than they appear to be. Aceh and Irian are not the next East Timor, which seceded from Indonesia last year after an independence vote. Yet the fate that awaits them may be as tragic.

Many analysts still wonder why the cries for secession, so quickly muzzled under Suharto, met little military reproache when they bloomed into a cacophony. In East Timor, government officials were free to join resistance movements. In West Papua, a former parliament member named Theys Eluay put his name on a pro-independence poster and got away with it. (He is now chief of the breakaway Papuan Presidium) In Aceh, mosques held freedom-espousing sermons. Student protesters everywhere openly called for referendums. Yet a full military crackdown took flight only after East Timorese voted to break away.

Abdurrahman Wahid, a half-blind muslim cleric preaching freedom of expression, treads gingerly too, albeit for different reasons. Flag raisings are fine, said President Wahid, as long as the red-and-white Indonesian flag is flying too. Referendums are okay too, so long as it is not a vote to break away. Wahid’s strategy of appeasement seemed to say: agree to dialogue, and we will offer full autonomy.

Indeed, the government is preparing for a structure that is federalism in all but name. In January 2001, Indonesia will boost its spending for the regions to 25 per cent of the budget, a 50 per cent hike. That may still be a small amount to the local communities; they want to keep 75 per cent of the revenues their province earns. But the move reflects Jakarta’s realisation that sooner or later, better profit-sharing is inevitable.


While the civilian government attempts a compromise, however, the military, it seems, has its own ideas of conflict resolution. It is war.

Bodies were still being buried in Wamena when fresh troops arrived. In all, there are more than 12,000 troops in West Papua, a population of 2.4 million people. There are “irregular” troops too. An anti-independence militia called the Red-and-White Taskforce is gathering strength, claiming more than 5,000 members. The police and military deny growing allegations that they are funding the militia. But they admit to confiscating arms from radical muslim groups waging holy war in the neighbouring Maluku islands, sparking fears that the warriors will enflame religious tensions in West Papua and worsen the already volatile situation.

Yet the most confounding element of this intensifying militarism is the pro-independence militia, dubbed the Papua Taskforce. Unemployed youths are signing up by the tens of thousands, having been promised by recruiters to never have to work again. At the helm of this haphazard people’s army, clad in death-squad-style black boots and combat pants, is a baffling, mysterious figure.

It is not an exaggeration to refer to Yorris Yarreway, a soft-spoken ethnic Chinese born on the small Papuan island of Serui, as the most unlikely guerrilla one would ever meet. Consider his credentials prior to becoming the Presidium’s most generous patron: he was deputy chief of Pemuda Pancasila, a youth group described by many Indonesians as a gang of thugs. In his capacity as a rent-a-crowd organiser, Yarreway was close to the Suharto family, as well as many generals. So cosy was his relationship with the military that Yarreway recently spent several nights in jail for allegedly leading a 1996 attack on an opposition party headquarters. His past is catching up with him in other ways.

Members of the taskforce have been accused of being heavy-handed, with local communities claiming extortion and random beatings.

That’s the point, say activists who portray Yarreway as a pied piper tasked to destroy the independence movement. Indeed, taskforce members have been caught with military-use hand grenades. Explains Albert Rumbekwan of Elsham, a Jayapura-based human rights group: “Yorris has money and he is being used by Jakarta’s power elite to manipulate the freedom movement”.


As he inspects a band of spear-wielding villagers training to join the militia, Wamena-based activist Yafet Yelemaken emphatically announces: “We declared independence in 1961!”. But the rest of the world, including the occupying Dutch administration , and the United Nations, ignored West Papua’s assertion of sovereignty.

When, in 1963, Indonesia annexed West Papua as its 26th province, few countries protested. They stood by again in 1969, when it held the widely-criticised “Act of Free Choice”-a vote with 1000 hand-picked community figures (representing 800,000 Papuans) now dubbed the “Act of No Choice”. That sparked a low level insurgency by the OPM, or Free Papua Movement and a vicious military retaliation. For Jakarta’s elite, the motive for a military campaign was money. With immense mineral deposits-the Grasberg gold-and-copper mine run by US-based Freeport McMoran is the world’s largest-and vast stretches of rainforest, West Papua was a lucrative fiefdom eagerly carved up by the Suharto family and their cronies. The same temptations threaten to tear apart the separatists.

For two decades, Thom Baenal campaigned against Freeport and military rule, even threatening a lawsuit against the American giant. He is now the Presidium’s deputy chief, although his appointment took place without a vote (Presidium chief Theys Eluay merely declared it so)

And in a surreal development, he has also been named to Freeport’s board of commissioners. This week in Jakarta, with Yarreway at his side, Baenal warns of more violence should the rebels be cornered. At the same time, these “rebels” plead for more support from Jakarta; indeed, a recent congress was partly funded by President Wahid. Neither Baenal nor his colleagues sees the irony of a government-backed independence movement. Says human rights activist Theo Sidoktama, who predicts that the Presidium will ultimately yield to an autonomy offer: “They are not responsible to the people, and when they betray the people, there will be bloodshed”.


Glance at the addresses of Jakarta’s main thoroughfares, named after national heroes, and one will find the names of many Acehnese. That the Acehnese were fierce freedom fighters, fending off the Dutch for 70 years at a cost of more than 100,000 Acehnese lives, worries Jakarta, battling with the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM, since Indonesia declared statehood in 1945.

Yet a lot has changed since those revolutionary days. For one, GAM’s leader, Hasan di Tiro, is an ailing 70 year-old in Stockholm, where he has lived in exile since he declared sovereignty 24 years ago. Today, GAM is a loose umbrella for disparate groups. Some are legitimate Libyan-trained guerrillas, others are opportunists masquerading as rebels in order to demand bribes. Although most Acehnese believe that these extortionists are former soldiers, they are simply tired of paying “taxes”. After all, they have paid more than enough.

Aceh’s vast gas fields alone generate US$ 1 billion worth of export revenue, yet the government returns less than 10 per cent of this amount to the province.

And it has protected its business interests with a decade-long military operation launched in the late 1980s – an operation that the National Commission on Human Rights estimates killed more than 1000 people and tortured thousands more.

The violence has not ceased. In September alone, at least 95 people were killed and hundreds injured, despite there being a ceasefire between the rebels and security forces that will last till January.

Kidnappings and assassinations are on the rise-although unlike the old days of military rule, the culprits are no longer so obvious. Some GAM commanders claim that the army has infiltrated their ranks, with the intent of discrediting GAM.

For example, if bombs explode without claiming any victims, says Abu Sofyan Daud, commander of GAM troops in North Aceh, “it is engineered. It is the army claiming to be us”. Yet Daud has in the past admitted to having been given arms by military personnel. He describes these officers, some as high-ranking as Colonels, as being sympathetic to GAM. His statements were supported by the discovery in a GAM-held mosque of a weapons cache containing classified documents belonging to the elite Special Forces.

There is other evidence that the security forces are fostering the rebels in order to justify a crackdown.

Former police chief Col. Yusuf Muharram was replaced months ago after President Wahid accused the officer of ordering the burning of schools and houses, and then falsely blaming the arson on GAM. Regional military commander Syarifuddin Tippe however says that his troops are confined to their barracks, and that GAM is guilty of the killings and bombings. All the accusations do little to ease growing paranoia. No one really knows who is who, says human rights activist Yusuf Pase. Conspiracy theorists talk of a covert military operation, which is planting double agents who then carry out extortion and terror in order to drive a wedge between the rebels and the villagers.

While proof is scant, fear pervades. “In Aceh now, there are no friends and enemies. Everyone is scared of each other,” says Pase.

If trust is scarce in Aceh, it is starting to vanish in West Papua. Already there are reports of the OPM threatening to take over from the presidium, whom they regard as too soft. “What we’re scared of is that the OPM will come down from the hills and reclaim the independence movement. Many people would join them, as many Papuans want freedom,” says activist Theo Sidoktama. That’s a bloody prospect, but leading to tragedy rather than independence-and that may suit Jakarta’s generals just fine.