The Massacre Starts Tomorrow
- The Massacre Starts Tomorrow
And Britain will share the blame for what's about to happen in West Papua
By George Monbiot
Also Published in the Guardian 30th November 2000
There's an odd component of globalisation, which I find myself at a loss to
explain. We are, we're assured, living in a global village, whose people are
daily brought closer together. Yet we hear ever less about what is happening
in distant parts of the world. There is less foreign news in the papers than
there has been for sixty years. Foreign documentaries are almost extinct.
Parliamentary debate about overseas issues has all but dried up. In the
midst of the communications revolution, we are becoming strangers to each
So the massacres due to begin tomorrow will take almost everyone by
surprise. Indeed, there is hardly a news editor who has even heard of the
land in which they are scheduled to take place.
West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, which has been
occupied since 1963 by Indonesia. Tomorrow, local people expect the
Indonesian army to launch a one-sided war, bloodier even than the carnage in
East Timor last year. The troops and militias have been armed and trained
and are awaiting orders. Only the international community can stop them.
But, though Western nations such as Britain are up to their necks in it,
they haven't the faintest intention of seeking to prevent the Indonesian
plan from going ahead.
In 1961, the 800,000 Melanesian people of West Papua were promised
independence. Holland, the colonial power, began to transfer the
administration to local people. In 1962, Indonesia invaded. The attack
failed, but John Kennedy, with Britain's backing, coerced the Dutch into
surrendering West Papua to the United Nations, on the grounds that if the
Indonesian government were not appeased it might succumb to communism. The
UN, as planned, promptly gave West Papua to Indonesia, but on condition that
within five years its people would be granted "the right of
self-determination". In the event, 1000 Papuan men were rounded up and
forced to vote on pain of death for Indonesian sovereignty.
Since then, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Papuans have been
tortured, mutilated and killed by Indonesian soldiers. The government
launched a eugenics programme whose purpose, according to the former
governor, was to give "birth to a new generation of people without curly
hair, sowing the seeds for greater beauty". The Papuans have been pushed out
of their lands and replaced by people from the central islands of Indonesia,
brought in by the government to pacify the province. Its forests have been
sold to logging companies, its mountains to western mining firms. When
villagers have sought to defend their lands, they have been bombed and
strafed. Now the whole place is about to explode.
Tomorrow, the indigenous people will make a formal declaration of
independence. The Indonesian army has been waiting for months for just such
a moment. Since August, thousands of commandos and paratroops have been
flown into West Papua. British-made Hawk jets have been overflying the
province's central highlands. Their deployment there was, according to the
Financial Times, sanctioned by Britain's Foreign Office. Militias are
currently being trained by the army outside the town of Wamena, one of the
centres of Papuan resistance. Some 12,000 firearms have been flown in,
presumably for distribution to Indonesian volunteers. Local people, by
contrast, are armed with spears and bows and arrows.
The Indonesian army has been encouraging the Papuans to rise, planting
agents provocateurs and issuing public statements suggesting that
independence ceremonies will be tolerated (all previous rituals have been
ruthlessly crushed). Here, as in East Timor, the army will seek to unleash
sufficient force to persuade the indigenous people to abandon their hopes of
Papuan leaders have repeatedly sought to reach a peaceful independence
settlement with the Indonesian government. But while President Wahid seems
vaguely sympathetic to their cause, vice-president Megawati, who has, in
effect, ultimate control over the province, appears interested only in
delivering lucrative logging and development concessions to the army in
order to secure its support. The Papuans have approached the British
government for help. It has ignored them. And still it continues to sell
arms to Indonesia.
When the massacre begins, our officials will doubtless wring their hands and
lament the failure of Indonesia's people to resolve their differences by
peaceful means. Having seen what happened in East Timor and having failed to
do anything to prevent its repetition, the blood this time will be on our
hands. We helped to start all this. Now we must stop it.