Papuan leaders have voiced their concern at plans for more than a thousand Indonesian soldiers to build 1,500 km of new roads in the next two years to accelerate ‘development’ in West Papua.
The government claims that unrest in the region is caused by a lack of ‘development’, while Papuans blame their problems on the violation of their political and human rights. Survival International, the NGO which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, and many Papuans fear that the influx of soldiers will bring neither development nor peace to the region.
One Papuan leader, Rev Socratez Yoman, told Survival, ‘The West Papuans do not need big roads, but a better life on their own land, without intimidation, terror, abuses and killings’.
Another leader, Markus Haluk, warned that the roads would open up the forests to illegal logging, much of it likely to be at the hands of the military.
The military presence in West Papua is almost always accompanied by human rights violations such as killings, arbitrary arrests, rape and torture.
So-called ‘development’ has already inflicted enormous damage to the Papuan people. Despite the presence of the world’s biggest gold mine, West Papua remains the poorest region in Indonesia with an HIV/AIDS rate thought to be 20 times higher than the rest of the country. Many of the cases of HIV/AIDS can be traced back to the commercial sex industry, which has accompanied the arrival of migrant workers in the fishing, logging and mining industries.
Many Papuans believe that the military have a vested interest in introducing HIV/AIDS in West Papua and see it as an attempt at ethnic cleansing. In some areas the military have supplied alcohol and prostitutes to bribe tribal leaders in order to gain access to their land and its resources. The disease is devastating some tribes. Rates are especially high in areas where so-called ‘development’ has already taken place, such as close to the US- and British-owned Grasberg mine.
Survival International is calling on the government of Indonesia to end human rights violations in West Papua and to enter into meaningful talks with the Papuan people so they are able to decide their own way of life, their own development priorities and their own future.