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UNREPORTED WORLD S12 E02
WEST PAPUA: RAINFOREST WARRIORS
Friday 20 October 2006 7.35pm
This week’s Unreported World travels to one of the remotest places on earth, where journalists are forbidden to work and usually arrested when they arrive, and where a bloody conflict between government forces and locals is rarely glimpsed by the outside world.
Reporter Evan Williams and Director Siobhan Sinnerton spend three weeks undercover in West Papua, an outlying province of Indonesia in the Western Pacific, which is home to the world’s biggest copper and gold mine.
Getting in to West Papua is extremely difficult. Obtaining official journalist accreditation is virtually impossible so the team have to film clandestinely” They begin their journey in Wamena in the remote western highlands. Waiting inside a safe house, hiding from the Indonesian authorities, they meet a group of tribal warriors who have travelled for days to be there. They tell Unreported World that at least 12 of their friends have been killed by the security forces, and claim that thousands more have been killed in a campaign which could wipe out their ethnic group.
West Papua’s tribes lived in stone-age isolation until they were discovered by Europeans in the 1930s. Indonesia annexed the area in the 1969, after a group of selected West Papuans voted for annexation, but the rest of the population were not allowed a chance to vote. Since then hundreds of thousands of Indonesians have been subsidised to settle in West Papua, and they now control most of the commerce – leading to seething resentment and conflict between the two groups.
In the company of guides from the West Papuan underground, the team trek deep into ancient forests to tribal villages affected by the conflict. At one village they find the inhabitants crying and wearing mud as a sign of mourning for their children who have been allegedly killed or “disappeared” by the security forces. Some mothers are so heartbroken that they have mutilated themselves by cutting off their fingers.
But while some grieve, others have used their traditional weapons – bows, arrows and poison – against the Indonesians. Papuan students have been at the forefront of protests which have involved the deaths of Indonesian security forces and scores of them are hiding in the mountains. Reaching them involves another long trek through the forests.
The students are protesting against Freeport, the big US gold and copper mine in the South of the Province. It’s West Papua’s biggest resource, but the students claim that Freeport does not pay enough of its annual revenues to help the native inhabitants.
The team then risk immediate arrest by arranging to meet members of the West Papuan armed resistance – the outlawed Free Papua Movement (OPM). The area is so remote they have to travel by plane, deep into the highlands and close to the Freeport mine. Some OPM members have trekked for a week to meet them, and finally Kelly Kwalik, their leader and one of the most wanted men in the whole of Indonesia arrives.
He tells Unreported World that West Papua is rich in natural resources but that Papuans remain poor while Indonesians benefit.
There seems little chance of reconciliation and as the OPM members raise their flag, the act is a potent symbol of how an argument over mineral resources has become a battle against the slow suffocation of a people and their way of life.
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