The Indonesian government’s attempt to initiate dialogue with West Papuan independence activists has declined into farce, following the shooting on June 14 of key West Papuan leader Mako Tabuni. Tabuni’s killing follows seven other recent shootings of West Papuans by Indonesian police and soldiers.
Despite eye witnesses saying that Tabuni was unarmed and trying to flee Indonesian police, Indonesian police spokesman, Senior Commissioner Johnannes Nugroho claimed that Tabuni was armed with a police pistol.
Last Thursday, however, Indonesian police chief General Timur Pradopo said Tabuni had been shot while trying to seize a pistol from police officers. “Prior to the capture, a conversation took place,” Pradopo said in an official statement. “Then the gun of a police officer was seized, so other police members protected [the officer].”
Pradopo said that after Tabuni had been shot, another pistol was found on his body. Further stretching credibility, Nugroho said the pistol that Tabuni allegedly had in his possession was the same one used to shoot a German tourist, Pieter Dietmar Helmut, in May.
Details about the pistol Tabuni allegedly had on his while trying to seize a pistol from an armed police officer were, however, unusually vague. “They [the Free West Papua Movement] stole it but I don’t remember when,” Nugroho said.
Nugroho said that police believed that Tabuni had shot Helmut because the pistol they claimed to have found on him would, they said, be revealed to be the same weapon used to shoot the Helmut. Positive identification of Tabuni as the shooter by Helmut’s wife was, however, not possible, Nugroho said, as he had already been buried.
A report in The Bali Times said that the gunman who shot Helmut had fired from inside a Toyota minivan.
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The police claim about the shooting of Tabuni and his responsibility for shooting Helmut comes against a backdrop of a recent increased police and troop presence in West Papua. The increased security presence coincided with Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sending former Aceh negotiator Farid Hussein to open discussions with West Papuan pro-independence activists.
President Yudhoyono initially promised in 2006 to settle unrest in West Papua through dialogue, renewing his promise in August last year. The Jakarta Post last week noted, however, that the dialogue process had “gone nowhere”.
Since announcing his intention to resolve West Papua’s issues, the province has been split in two, with a plan to create a further division, in contravention of a “special autonomy” law.
Moreover, President Yudhoyono’s Unit for Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua $3 billion autonomy fund, overseen by Lt General (ret) Bambang Darmon, intended to relieve chronic under-development in West Papua, has ended up in the hands of a small minority. Darmono was in charge of military operations in Aceh, including a period of martial law, from 2002 until 2005.
In January, Army Special Forces (Kopassus) Commander Major General Wisnu Bawa Tenaya said that West Papua was “relatively secure”, yet at the same time was overseeing the deployment of 176 Kopassus personnel, along with about 75 intelligence personnel from the police and military, as well as personnel from the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
The Kopassus force sent to West Papua was, Tenaya said, to “safeguard sovereignty”.
The chief of BIN, Lt General Marciano Norman said: “If violations are committed the commander of the TNI [military] and the national police chief would never hesitate to act against them.
“Control by the media is very tight and it would not want to see violations to happen there,” he said. The media, especially international media, is almost entirely banned from entering and reporting from within West Papua.