The Courier Mail (Australia) : Yudhoyono backs brutal Papua role

January 29, 2008 Tuesday

Marianne Kearney IN JAKARTA

INDONESIAN President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono yesterday gave extraordinary praise for former dictator Suharto’s role in the brutal military operation in Papua which killed thousands of tribesman.

Leading yesterday’s state funeral for Suharto in Solo, Mr Yudhoyono called on all Indonesians to remember the achievements of his 32-year rule, which was punctuated by massive human rights abuses.

The President commended Suharto for leading Operation Mandala, the early 1960s military operation aimed at intimidating the local population and pressuring then colonial ruler, The Netherlands, into handing the territory to Indonesia.

“In 1962, he led the forces which bravely struggled for West Irian (Papua),” said Mr Yudhoyono.

The operation paved the way for Indonesia to formally take control of the territory in 1969.

Human rights groups say up to 100,000 Papuans have died as a result of actions by the Indonesian military and security forces.

Before Operation Mandala, the Dutch had been preparing West Irian for independence.

But the US — fearing Indonesia might move further to the left — pressured The Netherlands into allowing West Irian to be put under United Nations control.

The UN ceded the territory to Indonesia and held a much criticised Act of Free Choice in 1969, in which a handful of tribal chiefs were intimidated into voting to join Indonesia.

Mr Yudhoyono’s comment is a signal to both Papuans and Australia that the current administration will not tolerate dissent in the province, where the Free Papua Movement has waged a low-level guerilla war since 1969.

A diplomatic tussle between Canberra and Jakarta flared in 2006 when Australia granted political asylum to a boatload of Papuans who said they were fleeing military persecution because of their peaceful support for independence.

Indonesia suspected Australia was covertly supporting independence activists, despite repeated official statements on Canberra’s support for Indonesian territorial integrity.

Papua’s guerilla movement has kept a low profile over the past few years.

But church groups, activists and students have continued to campaign peacefully for independence or demanded the expulsion of the Indonesian military from the jungle-clad province. Analysts say Jakarta now fears that these activists, especially the overseas campaigners, could garner international sympathy for their cause, just as exiled East Timorese successfully campaigned for independence.

East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao flew from Dili to Solo yesterday to attend the Suharto funeral.

Mr Gusmao, who led a guerilla struggle against Indonesia’s 1975-99 occupation of East Timor, said Timorese should pay tribute to the man who helped develop their country.

“Thank God, Pak Harto did many things to develop this country over the 24 years, although he also did a lot of terrible things. But we must forgive his sins,” he said.