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Detachment 88 Implicated in New Activist Crackdown

October 6, 2012

Detachment 88 Implicated in New Activist Crackdown

October 6, 2012
ABC News (Australia)

By Hayden Cooper

An Australian-funded police unit in West Papua has again been
implicated in recent crackdowns on the region’s independence movement.

The region has been the scene of violence and tension in 2012, with
independence leaders arrested, beaten and killed, and police
confronted by unruly and angry demonstrations.

In June, Indonesian soldiers went on a rampage in the highland’s town
of Wamena, a stronghold of the West Papua National Committee, which is
known as KNPB.

Last weekend police were again targeting the area, raiding the homes
and offices of KNPB members.

Eight people were arrested and witnesses, including KNPB leader Victor
Yeimo, say once again the Australian-trained and funded police unit
Detachment 88 was involved.

"When they arrest the KNPB brothers in Wamena, we saw Detachment 88
with one car, and another car with police, joined in by TNI (the
Indonesian military)," Mr Yeimo said.

Indonesian police accuse those arrested of making bombs and claim to
have found explosives during the raid.

Mr Yeimo rejects that and says his group is being framed as terrorists
to justify Detachment 88’s presence.

In West Papua, the Institute for Human Rights Advocacy, known as
ELSHAM, has studied the arrests and suspects the explosives recovered
by police were planted.

It is a view that is supported in Australia by advocates of the West
Papuan cause.

"They don’t have the capacity to gain the materials, so ELSHAM has
actually said that the material was probably planted in the KNPB
member houses where they found the explosives, and that’s not an
unusual thing for security forces to do," says Cammi Webb-Gannon, from
the University of Sydney’s West Papua project.

"I don’t think KNPB has any reason to be making bombs because they
believe in a peaceful approach to pursuing independence, they want a
referendum on independence in West Papua."

Deadly crackdowns

Detachment 88, which is trained by Australia as part of
counter-terrorism operations, has also been linked to a string of
incidents in which Papuan independence leaders have been arrested and

When travelled to the province in August, the crackdown on the
independence movement was already severe and had resulted in several
deaths, including the killing of former KNPB leader Mako Tabuni.

Witnesses say he was shot in a street by Detachment 88.

Victor Yeimo succeeded Mr Tabuni as leader of the KNPB and since then,
he says the crackdown has worsened as he takes the campaign public.

"We are the non-violent activists in West Papua," he says in a video
sent to 7.30.

"We will fight for our right of freedom according to peaceful means in
West Papua.

"We demand our right of self-determination, for referendum to be held
in West Papua peacefully and democratically."

But the Indonesian authorities do not believe his claim of
non-violence and they are pursuing KNPB like never before.

International observers say it is because the Indonesian government is
threatened by the movement.

Cammi Webb-Gannon says the Papuan movement’s international links could
explain Indonesia’s concern.

"First of all a lot of them are young, they’re students, or have
recently been students," she told 7.30.

"So they do have a lot of passion, a lot of fire, they have a popular
support base, they work from a very grassroots perspective, and I
think Indonesia is worried because they do have these international

New police chief

The weekend raids follow the appointment of a new police chief in
Papua, Brigadier General Tito Karnavian.

His background as the former head of Detachment 88 generates serious
unease among some Papuans despite his assurances of a new inclusive

"They will be opposed to his former role as head of Densus
(Detachment) 88, and as a police chief it doesn’t seem to mesh with
his new approach of working to win the hearts and minds of Papuans,"
Ms Webb-Gannon said.

7.30 put several questions to the Indonesian government about the
latest situation in Papua but received no reply. Attempts to contact
the new Papuan police chief were also unsuccessful.

As for Mr Yeimo, he is pushing for the release of the eight activists
arrested on the weekend.

And with his supporters in Australia, he is pressuring the Australian
Government to rethink its funding for Detachment 88.

"The Papuans will be pretty much living like prisoners in our own
land, where our movement, what we do will be censored, will be
followed, will be monitored," Mr Kareni said.

"There’s no room for democracy at all."
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