The Indonesian Military (TNI) on Sunday questioned the validity of documents cited in Australian media reports on its sprawling military presence in Papua, saying the reports were sympathetic to Papua’s push for independence.
The documents, entitled “Anatomy of Papuan Separatists”, were published by Australia’s Fairfax newspapers on Saturday and claimed the residents of the resource-rich eastern province were “easily influenced by separatist ideas” and that armed groups stood “ready for guerrilla war”, but had proof of just one weapon for every 10 men.
The 19 documents, dating from 2006 to 2009, indicate that Kopassus runs a vast network of spies and informants as part of its campaign to control the region and monitors the activities of foreigners in the region and around the world.
Among the documents was a list of accused separatist supporters, such as Australian journalist Naomi Robson, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown and senior Uniting Church pastor John Barr.
More than 40 US Congress members, including Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, are also named agitators.
Also included are South African anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu and former Papua New Guinea prime minister Michael Somare.
“We must be careful and question the validity of the reports. There is no such thing as a repressive or militant approach. What we do is always a welfare approach, where we help Papuans have better lives,” TNI spokesman Rear Adm. Iskandar Sitompul told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
He cited the TNI’s work in helping Papuans in Puncak Jaya build houses, places of worship and
roads as examples of the military’s efforts in the area, adding that residents and church congregations there praised the troops for their activities.
Iskandar also dismissed reports that the TNI had increased its presence in the province.
“[The Australian media] said we increased the number of troops to 15,000. However, we never increased the number. 15,000 troops are less than a normal territorial command. For instance, a territorial command in Java has 35,000 troops. So, they are wrong in this regard. We have stayed back and let the police secure the province,” he said.
According to the documents, Kopassus, an elite unit accused of widespread human rights abuses, mostly during Soeharto’s reign, said there were armed agitators “experienced and able to conduct a guerrilla war/survive in the forest, spread throughout almost every regency in Papua”.
But they numbered just 1,129 and had 131 weapons and four grenades between them, the report also said.
About 10,000 Papuans demonstrated for independence in Jayapura earlier this month, calling for a referendum vote in the face of a heavily armed police presence.
The Sydney Morning Herald, however, questioned Kopassus’ list of figures accused of supporting Papua’s independence.
Senator Feinstein and Tutu have raised concerns about human rights in Papua, but they have never backed independence, the media outlet said, adding that Michael Somare spent decades opposing separatists.