Residents reject construction of a military base in Tambrauw

The Indonesian military (TNI) is building a military base in the regency of Tambrauw, Papua Barat Province. Local residents claim that military members have pressured them to release 5 hectares of customary land for the construction of a Military District Command (KODIM) and a Military Sub-District Command (KORAMIL) in the Kwoor District. They demanded the local Government to build adequate health and education facilities instead of military facilities.  The residents fear that the presence of the military in the regency will lead to cases of military violence against local residents. Especially the elder generation of indigenous Papuans in Tambrauw has still experienced the violent military operations under Indonesia‚Äôs former president Suharto, which were accompanied by gross human rights violations against the indigenous population of West Papua.

According to local informants, the military began with the construction of the base in September 2019 without consulting the indigenous land rights holders. In October 2018, military representatives tried to influence the indigenous land rights owners by handing over money them. However, the landowners returned the money stating that they do not want a military base near their villages. In late January 2020, the military moved into a former Government office building in Wembru Sausapor (see intro image) which the regent of Tambrauw, Gabriel Asem, had handed over to the military. In February 2020, military members already started to build a KORAMIL in the Kwoor District without any prior consultation or agreement with the indigenous land rights holders.

According to information received, customary leaders wrote a letter to the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) on 26 April 2020, expressing their rejection for the military base in Tambrauw. The following day, a military representative named Major Yoyo paid a visit to the head of the tribal customary council (DAS), Abun Melky Yekwam, to question him about the letter and negotiate the further construction of the military base. The military members reportedly recorded the visit on video.

Protes Mahasiswa Kodim TambrauwSince the meeting, military members reportedly visited customary land rights holders in their houses and gardens to interview them about the construction of the military facilities, asking them to release their land. The landowners feel intimidated and pressured, as the military members recorded the answers on video. The military members appear to target indigenous communities in the districts Sausapor and Bikar. The customary leaders have asked the regent for a dialogue regarding the land which the local Government had given to the military for the construction of the KODIM and KORAMIL. On 28 April 2020, students from Tambrauw launched peaceful protests against the construction of the KODIM in Jayapura (see image on the right).

From a legal point of view, the Law No 34/2004 on the Indonesian Military stipulates that the presence of military is only mandatory in areas of armed conflict or areas bordering with a neighbouring country. The Tambrauw regency is neither close to a border, nor have observers reported of any activities by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) throughout the past years. Law No 34/2004 limits the function of the military to national defense in case of armed conflict and the protection of borders. The military may back-up the police to maintain national security or provide humanitarian aid.