Rape of a Nation
by Paul Kingsnorth
Armed and financed by Western corporations, Indonesia is waging a brutal but unreported war against a tribal people with little more than bows and arrows to defend itself. The West Papuan conflict is a war for gold, timber and cultural supremacy
Nona Kogoya was two years old when she died. She had been a normal, healthy young girl; but that was before the soldiers came. In February Nona’s village, in the highlands of New Guinea, was attacked by heavily armed Indonesian soldiers. The soldiers came without warning, running from home to home, firing their automatic rifles at random and dragging civilians, including Nona, from their thatched huts. Then they set fire to the houses. Nothing was spared: even the church was burned to the ground. As the houses burned, the soldiers trampled the villagers’ crops – their only source of food for the coming year – and, to ensure that no hope was left, impounded their livestock.
Terrified, the villagers ran for their lives into the forest. They kept running for days, and they stayed there for weeks. They were safe from the soldiers, but they had no shelter, and had to survive on what food they could find in the forest. Nona, unsurprisingly, fell ill. The soldiers had the forest surrounded, and wouldn’t let anyone take food, supplies or medicines to the refugees.
On 10 February Nona died and was buried in a shallow grave in the forest. She was not the first innocent child to die in West Papua, and she will not be the last.
What happened in Nona’s village was not an isolated incident: it has been repeated across the highlands of West Papua for months. Indonesian soldiers have been burning villages, attacking civilians, raping women and killing men in a widespread and planned military operation. As you read this, at least 5,000 refugees are living precariously on the slopes of cold mountains and in deep forests, hiding from the army. International observers, journalists and aid workers are banned by the Indonesian government from getting into the country.
It is a huge, horrific and deliberately planned attempt to cow and terrify an entire population. But you would be forgiven for not having heard anything about it. The world’s media didn’t report it. The world’s politicians, so concerned about human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, said nothing.
You would be forgiven, too, for not having heard of West Papua, the country in which these atrocities are taking place. For the Papuan people, this is par for the course. They have got used to the fact that the ongoing genocide of their people and their nation is routinely ignored by the rest of the world. For the soldiers and politicians of Indonesia, the nation that has occupied West Papua, against the will of its people, for almost half a century, this was just the way they like it.
What the Indonesian military is doing in the Papuan highlands is known as a ‘destabilising operation’. It has happened many times before, and it works like this: first, the special forces of the Indonesian military, Kopassus (known as ‘Indonesia’s SS’), murder some innocent civilians: in this case a number of priests and schoolteachers. Then, Kopassus issues a statement claiming that Papuan rebels fighting for independence from Indonesia were responsible for the killings. Finally, the soldiers enact a bloody price on the civilian population in revenge for the killings that they themselves carried out. The result, at least in theory, will be a terrified population, too scared to stand up to the occupying forces of a brutal foreign army.
This is Indonesia’s secret war: a war carried out by a sophisticated modern military machine against a tribal people with little more than bows and arrows to defend itself; a war for gold, timber and cultural supremacy; a war that will go on until the world wakes up to the horrors that happen every day in the highlands of this forgotten nation.
West Papua, the western half of New Guinea (the world’s second largest island), is one of the most remarkable places on earth. Between them, its million or so inhabitants, who live in tribal communities in largely untouched rainforest, speak around 500 separate languages. It is home to hundreds of unique species, including the bird of paradise and the tree kangaroo. Though nominally a part of the Dutch East Indies during the 19th century, Dutch New Guinea, as it was then known, was left virtually unmolested until the middle of the 20th century. Then, life for its people was to change swiftly, brutally and for ever.