West Papua: Sad plight of the Nduga internally displaced children

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Ndugan internally displaced children in Wamena pray for their safety and family after the volunteers bring doctors to check their health. Image: Febriana Firdaus/Voice of Papua

SPECIAL REPORT: By Arnold Belau, Ligia Giay, Febriana Firdaus and Belinda Lopez of the Voice of Papua newsletter

Everything about what happened in the Papuan provincial regency of Nduga just over a year ago is still a blur and closed off. It remains an elephant in the room, just like another mass killing case in West Papua during the 1970s.

No case has been brought to justice. The killing is still happening until now.

Let us start explaining what happened there by showing this map of where Nduga is located (the red loop marked Papua).

Map: Voice of Papua

Since December 2018, Nduga has made headlines in national media and some international media after the military attempted to crush Papuan independence fighters who attacked workers of the Trans-Papua Highway construction project (killing at least 17 people).

The Indonesian military bombed the villages and forced 45.000 Ndugans to flee into the jungle and nearby regencies for safety. Many of them are women and children.

Historical background
What makes Nduga so unique as the centre of the rebellion?


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In 1969, Indonesia took control of the western half of New Guinea by handpicking only 1,026 people to vote in favour for integration in a plebiscite backed by the United Nations.

It is one of the biggest scandals in world history. The event prompted the Papuan rebels to form the West Papua National Liberation Army (then called Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM), which has continued the struggle for independence ever since, including in Nduga.

Nduga is a mountainous area with pristine tropical forests, well-known for its cultural diversity and is part of the World Heritage-listed Lorentz National Park. It is inhabited by indigenous Melanesian people who were largely cut off from the outside world until missionaries arrived well into the 20th century.

They are widely known as the most resistant of Papuans across the region in the struggle against the Indonesian government. The people refuse to admit their region is part of Indonesia and refuse to speak Bahasa Indonesia.

Even for other Papuans – who are suspected of “working together” with the Indonesian government – it is difficult to gain their trust. Therefore, it is hard even for other Papuans to approach them.

Until today, the Indonesian military is still struggling to occupy the region. The challenge for the Indonesian army is to adapt to the weather — the mountains in Nduga are covered by glaciers and it is bitterly cold.

Joining the rebels
But the Ndugans are used to being guerrillas in the mountains. Traditionally, they have followed their elders to join rebels to take revenge on the killing of their parents and family members, and training themselves to survive in the cold weather.

One of the well-known events that have marked the history of violence in West Papua, particularly Nduga, is the Mapenduma Operation in 1996. Then, a group of environmental researchers were kidnapped by the rebels.

The military rescue operation and its aftermath are shrouded with stories of trauma, when the effort to capture Kelly Kwalik and his group allegedly caused numerous deaths among the civilian villagers.

Graphic: Tirto/Deadnauval

Tirto published a short article (in Indonesian) about this event last week.

However, it is hard to find evidence of anything.

Back to the IDP.

Aside from the difficulties in communicating with Ndugans, fortunately, they still open the door for the Christian church.

One of the Protestant churches in Baliem Valley has managed to distribute food and clothes to them. Even the emergency school has been built just next to the church.

Collecting data
But is that enough to help them survive?

The Voice of Papua’s team is collecting data on the ground because last month marked one year since the Ndugans became refugees. These are important issues for the Nduga IDP (internally displaced people) that need to be addressed soon by local and central government.

So far, 238 people have died. On 10 December 2019, we published a special report on “one year of Nduga Internally Displaced Persons or IDP” by interviewing Raga Kogoya, one of the leading volunteers in the highlands of Wamena.

“At least 238 (of the IDP) have died, some of them suffered from gun wounds, and some of them were ill,” she told us. This number is higher than the one released by the Indonesian Social Affairs ministry (MoSA).

Raga added that the number is higher, but some of the Ndugan IDP people did not report their case to the volunteers. Here are some of the details.

A thousand students were not able to join national exams. Back when one of our editors visited the Ndugan shelter in 2019, there was an emergency school for the children run by churches and volunteers.

The school is built from wood and tarpaulin with students sitting on wooden benches beneath a tin roof.

During the monsoon season, the classroom is flooded by rainwater.

No exams or credits
Even though they can attend the class, the students find it difficult to get access to national exams.

Raga said the volunteers and the teachers are unable or do not have enough legal standing to issue reports for them. Therefore, they cannot get any credit for their hard work studying at the emergency school.

“The government is very ignorant. They don’t want to open their hands and serve these children,” she said.

Also, the local hospital also refuses to serve the children, saying that they only serve Wamena’s residents.

Hence, the children among the Nduga IDPs lack access to education and health services.

Children join rebels
As many children do not get this access to education and health services, some of them prefer to stay in the jungle and even join the rebels.

Father Jon Djonga called it a “cycle of revenge”. Take a look at the case of the current leader of the West Papua Liberation Army-Free Papua Movement in Nduga, Egianus Kogoya. He is apparently the youngest son of the group’s former leader Silas Kogoya who was killed during the Mapenduma Operation.

Last week on January 11, one police officer was shot and injured when the Kogoya group attacked a security post at Kenyam Airport. The police are now hunting the group – it seems this is far from over.

A trauma healing centre is urgently needed. The Indonesian government, via the Social Affairs ministry, has not yet provided any trauma healing therapy for the Nduga Children’s IDP.

The volunteer has requested the treatment since the first wave of Nduga IDP flooded into Wamena in 2018. Children in Nduga are still traumatised from the incident, as some of them witnessed how the military bombed their village, and how their friends and siblings were shot to death or were starving while fleeing to the forest.

The volunteer told us, if only the government would provide the trauma healing therapy, perhaps we could cut the “cycle of revenge” and prevent the children from joining the rebel army.

The killing is still happening. Residents and human rights activists found a total of five bodies, suspected to be victims of shootings by unscrupulous members of the Indonesian military in Iniye village, Mbua District, on Thursday, 10 October 2019.

The five bodies were three women and two young men. They were found in a hole covered with leaves before being buried in the ground.

The family of Samuel Tabuni, one of the Nduga youth leaders who died, explained that on 20 September 2019 the victim brought food from Wamena, driving a Strada car to Nduga via the Trans-Papua Highway. He was allegedly shot by the Indonesian military.

In another case in Nduga, a driver named Hendrik Lobere was shot dead by the Indonesian military, prompting Nduga’s vice-regent Wentius Nimiangge to resign in protest. Security Minister Mahfud MD denied the accusation that it was the military forces who had killed the driver.

However, a fact-finding team has been formed to investigate the case.

Nduga’s IDP have been living in 23 shelters in Wamena city, Jayawijaya regency, without decent toilets and proper beds.

The latest story we published was about the plan of the regent of Jayawijaya to invite his Nduga counterpart and their officials to talk about the IDP. One of the crucial topics of discussion will be the budget allocation for the IDP which reached Rp 75 billion (about NZ$8.3 million).

The question is where did the money go?

Budget for the Nduga internally displaced people – where did the funding go? Image: Voice of Papua

The Indonesian military wields internet “news” as a weapon in Papua. A Reuters investigation found that the Indonesian military funds 10 websites, some of which have been operating since mid-2017. The websites uniformly publish positive coverage of government, military and police alongside articles that demonise government critics and human rights investigators.

The subjects of some stories told Reuters the websites attributed invented quotes to them and published other falsehoods.

Sarawak’s logging tycoons
Over the past 50 years it has been common for certain leaders, particularly in East Malaysia, to criticise past colonial ills while at the same time embarking on their own unprecedented rampage of resource grabbing, first within their own borders and then throughout the region.

The consequences have been described by many victims in Papua New Guinea to Sarawak Report as “worse than colonialism” – a sentiment echoed by many of the native peoples of Sarawak whose lands were snatched by outside interests aided and abetted by corrupt local leaders.

Arnold Belau is chief editor of Suara Papua; Ligia Giay is a Papuan writer and historian-in-training; Febriana Firdaus is an Indonesian investigative journalist and Voice of Papua newsletter co-founder; and Belinda Lopez is an Australian journalist, researcher and audio documentary maker. Voice of Papua newsletter is a side project of the Papuan-run Suara Papua newspaper.

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