Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How the Papuan people Continue to Unite in Resistance: Victor Yeimo Interview

[This Interview with Papuan activist Victor Yeimo was published on the Kontinum website, because of a feeling that little information and perspectives from the Papuan struggle is available in Indonesia, and so people outside Papua are not aware of the what is actually going on there. The original, in Indonesian, can be found at http://kontinum.org/2011/08/wawancara_victor_papua/]

We see Papua's problems as coming from a combination of problems with the state and corporations, military violence, ecological damage, genocide and extinction of indigenous cultures. The Papuan issue is also a national issue for Indonesia, and one which is not yet resolved. Many indigenous people are killed and tortured in order to legitimise the destruction of Papua's natural riches by the world's giant companies together with their closest partners: government.

Constitutional reasons, together with the logic of national unity and a narrow nationalist view of 'Indonesianness' are used to legitimise repression and oppression of the Papuan people and their land.

But amidst a climate of repression that doesn't seem to subside, the Papuan people struggle on, ever-bravely. To get to know the situation and viewpoint of the resistance movement in Papua, Kontinum interviewed Victor Yeimo, spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), one of the people's organisations that continues the active struggle in the land of Papua:

Bearing in mind that there is very little and quite selective news about the Papuan situation and the people's struggle in the media, could you explain for all our readers what is the latest situation in Papua?
Human rights violations of civilians by the Indonesian military and police are still taking place. Global investment has ballooned after the ACFTA agreement (ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement), where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had given instructions to police and military commanders to use investment as a means of pacifying Papua (see Jurnal Nasional, 16 May 2011, page 10). China is the home of the majority of global investors, and the Papuan Provincial Body for Capital Investment (Badan Penanaman Modal) has reported that there has been a 28% increase in investment in Papua in the last 6 months.

There have also been cases of malpractice where Indonesia's bureaucratic elite have interfered with the governance of Papua. Corruption, collusion and nepotism have increased due to the central government's inconsistency around laws and regulations.

Aside from that, Freeport workers have risen up and have gone on strike (tabloidjubi.com will have news updates).

Illegal business from the police and military is also on the rise, such as illegal logging, ,gold panning, bringing sex workers from outside Papua, dealing in the wood of the eaglewood tree, and so on. Meanwhile military repression to silence the democracy movement has been getting more intense, and uses labels such as separatist, terrorist, trouble-maker and so on.

What do the Papua people think about these situations, and how have they reacted to them?
The people do not have much power, due to the military strength in Papua. Meanwhile the government is seducing the people with trillions of rupiah of foreign direct investment in their ancestral lands, and so in the end there are many people that do not want to join organised resistance movements.

The people continue to problematise the history of Papua's integration in the unified Indonesian state, which has always been manipulated by the United States, Indonesia and the Netherlands. Because of that the people still continue to unite in resistance.

Apart from the problems of history and culture, what is making the Papuan people refuse Jakarta's influence in their everyday lives and want self-determination?
Because Jakarta's approach is militaristic, exploitative, deceitful and marginalising. From the beginning right up to the present day Jakarta has regarded Papuans as second-class people, people close to animals. And then the next thing they do is that they violate the arrangements that they themselves have made. They are just not consistent in their regulations and policy. Policy is also biassed in favour of incomers to Papua. So the people prefer to think about sorting things out for themselves. Many Papuans, as a result of all they have gone through, believe that Indonesia's sole aim in West Papua is to wipe out the Papuan people and take control of the territory.

How have government, the bourgeoisie and Indonesian politicians viewed the Papuan people's struggle, and what has been their reaction?
They continue to be suspicious of all civil activists that operate in a legal or democratic way. Indonesia also uses its military force and criminal law to kill off west Papua's peaceful movement. They also use 'divide and conquer' techniques to destroy the unity and solidarity of the Papuan people's resistance. Jakarta has poured a lot of money into the military, police and intelligence organisations in order to make Papua secure. Many Papuans have been recruited by enticing them with money to join the ranks of Barisan Merah Putih (Red and White Front: a militant Indonesian nationalist civil organisation). Many cases of abuse by members of the military police have not been brought to justice, and the perpetrators have even been rewarded with new jobs and promotions.

How have the Papuan people got involved in the struggle for freedom in Papua? What kinds of resistance have developed?
Papuans take a peaceful and dignified approach, organising demonstrations, prayer sessions, seminars, writing books or reporting repression on the Internet. There are also some traditional militant groups in the national Liberation army - Free Papua Movement (TPN-OPM) who refer to themselves as a West Papuan military. They continue to use guerilla tactics to chase the Indonesian army out of their areas.

What is the reaction of Papuan people towards the 'separatist' label that is put on every movement that emerges in Papua?
We're aware that we aren't separatists, because the people on the contrary consider Indonesia to be the separatists, as Indonesia arrived in 1962 whereas the Papuan state was given independence in 1961.

The people regard this label as one imposed by the people in power, who are anti-democratic and anti-human rights, as it is stated in the Indonesian basic law set down in 1945 that colonisation should be erased across the whole world. The people see this label as something imposed by the military, to promote their own interests of expanding the territory under military control in order to profit from securitization projects. In books, speeches seminars etc. the people continue to state that we are not separatists, because this land belongs to the Papuans, it dot belong to Indonesia, the US, Britain or any other country.

How do you see the general Indonesian population's understanding of, and response to, the Papuan problem?
Much of Indonesian society doesn't understand the problems of Papua. Maybe people have been influenced by the opinion of those in power, because of the propaganda they spread on TV and in newspapers, that Papuans are poor, and so on. But actually we're rich, only Indonesia keeps marginalising the Papuan people's rights. The Indonesian people, with their blinkered nationalism, see the Papuan movements as being against those in power. But they are also being treated in the same way by our exploitative, greedy, gun-crazed, corrupt and chauvinist leadership.

For the majority of the Indonesian population, there are very few who know just how the Indonesian leadership invaded, took over and then annexed Papua, which was granted independence in 1961, through agreements to establish Papua's political status that were devised by the US, Britain and the Netherlands, without involving the Papuan people. Most people in Indonesia are still blind to the problems of Papua and still ignorant of how Papuans have suffered, and so still take the side of our cruel leaders.

Can you tell us about your organisation, KNPB?
West Papua National committee (KNPB) is a West Papuan people's medium. KNPB exists in different places throuout the land of Papua, and also has consulates in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Manado. KNPB was set up in 2008 with Buchtar Tabuni as chair and Victor Yeimo as General Secretary. Towards the end of 2006 Buchtar was arrested and condemned to 3 years in prison and Victor undertook the everyday tasks. In August 2009 Victor was arrested and condemned to 3 years in prison. Now the organisation is operating with Mako Tabuni as Chair I of KNPB, Buchtar still as General Chair, and Victor Yeimo as International Spokesperson.

KNPB always encourages Papuans to see themselves as historically, culturally and geographically different to Indonesians. Can you explain what is the position of KNPB comrades regarding this?
We locate our struggle with the Papuan people. Whatever the people want, that's what we fight for. The historical, geographical and cultural factors are actually like you said. We see that Indonesia's involvement in West Papua is no more than a story of protracted repression. This territory is still like a protectorate. Whatever the people wish for, that's what KNPB will mediate as a focus for the struggle, using sincere means.

What is KNPB's vision of the “right to self-determination”, in connection with the Papuan struggle?
Papuans do not regard the test of public opinion that took place in 1969 as final. The people continue to demand the right to determine their own future. Many Papuans have died as a result of demanding these rights. Therefore KNPB fights for a referendum as a decisive solution to the Papuan conflict. This is so that the people can decide whether they want to continue as part of Indonesia, or if they want independence. In KNPB's role as media, it continues to make demands to international bodies and also appeals to the will of Jakarta so that the people are given their democratic right to choose their future. Of course we need the reinforcement of international solidarity, and to this end there is a group of international lawyers working to investigate the status of Papua and resolve it through international law.

What sort of Papua do the Papuan people themselves want?
A Papua that is free of all forms of repression: Indonesian neocolonialism, neoliberalism/ global capitalism and militarism.

How do Freeport and the other corporations that have established themselves in the land of Papua react to the people's struggle there?
Freeport collaborates with the Indonesian leadership. They both look after their economic and political interests in the same way. That means that they label anyone who doesn't accept the presence of these corporations as separatists and terrorists. Freeport takes a line opposing the Papuan people's struggle, because in their view it will harm their capital investments and vital assets.

What is their connection with the Indonesian government and bourgeoisie?
Freeport continues to deceive Indonesia and the Papuan people, but Freeport wants Indonesia to continue as guarddog of its assets. So Freeport keeps paying the military and Indonesian bourgeoisie to ensure guaranteed security and legal favour. Papuans get nothing meaningful from this arrangement.

What are the priority needs right now for friends involved in the struggle for freedom in Papua?
-We really need the solidarity of oppressed people wherever they might be, including people in Indonesia, to work together to chase all forms of repression out of Papua.
-We really need solidarity from friends in the national press to take the side of the Papuan people in their reportage.
-We really need consolidation at the national level to shape a definitive solution for the Papuan people.
-We need some means of production that can be used to protect ourselves against the ongoing siege of repression in the land of the bird of paradise.

What sort of solidarity do the Papuan people need? And what can friends from outside Papua do to help the Papuan people's struggle?
-We would like it if the Papuan issue was regularly discussed by friends outside Papua.
-We would wish for some sort of national consolidation to discuss and establish strategy and tactics for a joint resistance.
-We also need advocacy, economic and political information and reading material that could help us be active in the field.

Thank-you, and respectful greetings to all Papuans in struggle.

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