Jane's Intelligence Review: West Papua

Jane's Intelligence Review

Provincial concerns - Indonesia faces increasing separatist strife*

Key Points

· The resource-rich Indonesian province of Papua experienced a

rise in violent incidents in the run-up to the country's 9 April parliamentary elections.

· A mixture of pro-independence sentiments and localised

grievances are likely to be behind the violence.

· Although this is currently only a limited threat to foreign

corporations, a forceful crackdown from the security forces could further aggravate separatist tendencies.

*Increasing local dissatisfaction is boosting support for the region's weak and fragmented separatist movements. /Fabio Scarpello/ examines risks to resource extraction in the region.*

A recent string of arson attacks and assaults targeting government facilities, security posts and foreign companies in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua has led to speculation about a possible sustained increase in violence in the resource-rich region.

The violence began in the run-up to the 9 April Indonesian general election and occurred in tandem with pro-independence demonstrations, with at least 12 people killed.

The Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia: TNI) blamed the violence on the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka: OPM), a largely moribund separatist group. However, pro-independence activists blame individuals within the TNI, who they claim are bent on justifying large security contracts in the area. Regardless of the culprits, the events are likely to provoke a heavy-handed reaction from Jakarta, which may fuel wider resistance.

*Limited risk*

The prospect of renewed violence is of particular concern to foreign hydrocarbon and mineral extraction corporations in the region, such as Freeport Indonesia and British Petroleum (BP). However, the increase in violence is unlikely to create any immediate problems for such corporations.

Freeport Indonesia, a local unit of US gold and copper producer Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, began exploring in southern Papua in the 1960s. In 1998, the Grasberg Mountain, next to its existing mine, was found to contain a huge mineral deposit and has since become the world's largest gold mine and third largest copper mine.

Yet Freeport's relationship with the Papuan population has been volatile. The company has been accused by pro-independence groups of having caused environmental damage, encouraging human rights abuses and giving too little back to the local community, although no official charges have been brought against the company.

Freeport has denied all such charges but has still been a target of pro-independence attacks and student demonstrations. However, the combination of Freeport's large security apparatus (with more than 1,000 TNI soldiers and police officers patrolling the area) and the weakness of the pro-independence rebel movement make the risk of damage to operations negligible.

The rise in tension is also unlikely to pose an immediate threat to BP's Tangguh liquefied natural gas project, which is being developed in the Bintuni Bay area of West Papua. BP Indonesia has been the operator of the project since 2005, with a 37.2 per cent stake under a production-sharing contract with BPMigas. The project involves tapping six fields to extract combined proven reserves of around 410 billion m of clean gas.

BP has so far managed to avoid the politics that surround the exploitation of natural resources in the region, owing in part to initiatives taken by the company. Chief among these is the introduction of external monitoring of its operations, the Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel (TIAP), and of the Integrated Community-based Security

(ICBS) programme, which makes locally recruited guards the first line of security, with local police available in reserve and, beyond them, the military.

However, as the construction phase ends, BP will face a new set of security risks stemming from increased socio-economic tensions.

The development of Tangguh has led to the doubling of the population in some local villages with the arrival of migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia and Papua. Tensions between groups have previously been low as there were sufficient jobs for all. Employment peaked above 10,000 in August 2007. Yet shortly thereafter, the process of reducing the workforce began, accelerating sharply through 2008. There are now 4,000 workers, but this is likely to be reduced to only 1,500 mostly skilled workers. Many Papuans do not have access to the education that would provide the necessary skills. There is a risk that this pool of unemployed people could ignite localised conflicts, as resentment of non-Papuans increases.

Moreover, there is some tension among non-resettled villagers around the north shore of the bay. They are claiming customary rights over some of the gas being exploited and over the land affected by the project. If left unresolved, these claims could lead to protests. Indeed, support for the project remains strong among most local people and the local elite, but pro-independence groups view BP as a collaborator with Jakarta's exploitation of their natural resources, and could seek to harness any growing dissatisfaction.

The ICBS has not yet been tested by any large disturbance, and it is unclear how it would react should it ever happen. The programme also lacks clear definitions for the involvement of Indonesia's special operations forces (Brigade Mobil: Brimob) and the TNI, which could allow either or both to take a more prominent role should problems arise. This could change the perception of the project among the population, engendering more strongly anti-BP sentiments.

*Pro-independence disunity*

Pro-independence sympathy is widespread in Papua, and the province has experienced sporadic violence since its incorporation into Indonesia in 1969. Indigenous Papuans have resented both the settling of migrants from other areas of Indonesia and the perceived exploitation of Papua's natural resources by the Indonesian government.

However, the pro-independence movement has been largely committed to political and non-violent resistance since a July 2006 ceasefire announced by the OPM. Despite intermittent clashes with the security forces since then, there is no reason to believe that this is about to change.

The OPM's main weakness is its fragmentation, which is rooted in Papua's extreme level of social diversity. The roughly 1.8 million Papuans are splintered into more than 312 tribes, and although anti-Indonesian sentiments have helped create an overarching Papuan identity, it has not dislodged primary loyalty to separate tribes.

At a political level, this means that Papuans rarely accept the leadership of someone from a different tribe, while within the pro-independence movement, this translates into a lack of cohesiveness. The issue of legitimacy - namely who can speak on behalf of all of Papua

- is therefore a serious problem for the movement and one that is not likely to be solved in the foreseeable future.

The OPM and its armed wing, the National Liberation Army, cannot claim such a unifying role. Established in 1964, the group suffers from internal divisions and can no longer claim to have a nationwide structure.

The overall leadership of the group is contested by Richard Yoweni and Kelly Kwalik, with the latter enjoying most support from within the group. However, neither has real control over the organisation, which is subdivided into several commands that operate independently.

Its current strength is difficult to gauge. The TNI says there are fewer than 100 fighters left while some academics say hundreds remain. One /Jane's/ source, who recently toured 11 OPM camps, said there are several thousand.

The group is also poorly armed. Apart from a few assault rifles, it has a small number of 7.62mm general purpose machine gun and grenades. Its military operations do not go beyond hit-and-run attacks that merely harass, rather than threaten the TNI.

The main OPM unit operates around Timika and Wamena in the Central Highlands and is led by Kwalik. This is the command that has often attacked Freeport operations, either directly or via kidnappings. Another commander, Mathias Wenda, is more focused on attacking non-Papuan Indonesian settlers as well as TNI posts. Wenda is based in Bewani in Papua New Guinea and is also responsible for the Arso area in Keerom district, just across the border. Goliat Tabunis, based in Puncak Jaya, leads a small faction that has been at the centre of the fiercest fighting with the TNI in the last few years.

*Non-violent resistence*

Given the OPM's weakness, recent support for the pro-independence movement should be credited to the growing stature of the non-violent movement, rather than the former insurgent group.

The most vocal pro-independence voices are found in the student organisations, with the United Front for the West Papuan People's Struggle (Front Pepera Papua Bara: Pepera) and the Greater Manokwari Student Executive Council (Badan Eksekutif Mahasiswa: BEM) at the forefront.

Pepera is responsible for staging April 2008 demonstrations against Freeport as well as other high-profile initiatives. Its main stronghold is among highland youth from across the Baliem Valley and Timika, and in areas strongly affected by logging operations. It has a significant base among youth and students in Jayapura.

BEM employs similar tactics, although it has a wider focus, centred on requesting a referendum on Papua's status. The group has made significant inroads into garnering support with the elite but remains limited in its geographical scope to the north coast and adjacent inland areas, extending through to the Bird's Head Peninsula.

Besides the students, of growing importance is the West Papua National Authority, established in late 2005. It represents various segments of Papuan society and reaches most regencies. According to a /Jane's/ source inside the group, it offers the strongest organised grassroots base and the best opportunity for reaching the international community.

The newly established West Papua National Coalition for Liberation is another attempt to gather support from various segments, although it further underlines the inability of Papuans to align behind one group.

This lack of unification highlights the limited threat pro-independence groups pose to the operations of foreign corporations working to extract resources in Papua over the short term.

*Militarisation of Papua*

However, in the longer term, efforts to counteract rising violence with a greater state security presence may prove counteractive, by bolstering local dissatisfaction and resentment.

Figures are difficult to verify, but the police have said they plan to increase forces in West Papua by 1,500 and that a new regional police command is likely to be established there this year. Besides the permanently based TNI troops, one company of approximately 100 personnel from the Infantry Division of the army's Strategic Reserve Command

(Kostrad) has been relocated to Bintuni Bay, while the navy plans to establish a small base there too.

Moreover, the Indonesian National Defence Institute is assessing the security needs of the area in anticipation of operations beginning at Tangguh and is considering whether to recommend improvements to the local police posts and sub-district military commands. This could lead to a significant increase in the number of troops stationed there. Papua and West Papua already present a high level of militarisation. According to local estimates, there are between 12,000 and 15,000 TNI soldiers in the area, and at least 2,500 Brimob personnel. Following the recent violence, South Sulawesi Provincial Police sent a 105-strong company of its Brimob to Papua.

Although the increased militarisation is not solely linked to Tangguh's status as a national asset, this will undoubtedly lead to tension. Both Brimob and the TNI view any disturbances in Papua as "a separatist threat," therefore increasing the risk of violent crackdowns and concomitant increased support for pro-independence groups.

As such, the combination of declining employment opportunities and an increasing security presence looks set to increase support for pro-independence groups, expressed both through peaceful and violent means. Although the fragmentation of the various groups will ensure that violence remains relatively low-scale, targeted local attacks will pose an increased threat to the operations of corporations such as Freeport and BP, as they become increasingly associated with the administration in Jakarta.

*Related Articles*

· 1. Island finance - US aid tackles terrorism in Southeast Asia

· 2. Bombs hit US mine in Papua

· 3. Sentinel: Papua/Indonesia

Fabio Scarpello is the Southeast Asia correspondent for Adnkronos International.

Copyright IHS (Global) Limited, 2009