New NGO report reveals relationships between military deployment and economic interests in West Papua

A new NGO report with the title “Ekonomi-Politik, Penempatan Militer Di Papua, Kasus Intan Jaya” has revealed the involvement of high-ranking police and military officials in various mining companies exploiting gold and other mineral resources in West Papua, with a focus on the Intan Jaya regency. The report is the result of joint research by the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), WALHI Papua, Pusaka Bentala Rakyat, the Papua Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Papua), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Greenpeace Indonesia, the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), and Trend Asia.

The armed conflict in Intan Jaya has significantly aggravated since December 2020. Security force operations throughout 2020 caused the widespread internal displacement of thousands of indigenous Papuans. They were accompanied by extra-judicial killings of civilians, including Papuan Pastor Rev Zanambani and catholic catechist Rufinus Tigau.

In the midst of the humanitarian crisis, the Indonesian Minister of State-owned Enterprises, Mr Erick Thorir, announced in late September 2020 that the Government is planning to endorse the Indonesian mining company PT Aneka Tambang Tbk (PT ANTAM) to exploit large gold resources under the Wabu Mountain in the Intan Jaya. Experts estimated that the so-called Wabu Block has an area of about 10,700 hectares with a potential of 4.3 million tonnes of gold ore with a potential gold grade of 2.47 grams per tonne.

The NGOs used spatial analysis to identify four companies, namely PT Freeport Indonesia and/or PT ANTAM, PT Madinah Qurrata 'Ain, PT Nusapati Satria, and PT Kotabara Mitratama, that potentially benefit from the heavy presence of security posts near mining concessions in Intan Jaya. Retired and incumbent army members hold management positions or own shares in two companies, PT ANTAM and PT Madinah Qurrata 'Ain. They were also part of the campaigning team of Indonesian President Joko Widodo during the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections.

The most prominent among them is the former military general and incumbent Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan. He is allegedly affiliated with the company PT Madinah Qurrata 'Ain. Panjaitan is also a major shareholder in the PT Toba Sejahtera Group, whose subsidiaries are involved in implementing the Derewo River Gold Project in West Papua in cooperation with Australia-based company West Wits Mining.

Minister Luhut Panjaitan did not publicly comment on the findings of the report. Instead, Panjaitan reportedly filed a complaint against KontraS coordinator Fatia Maulidianti and executive director of human rights NGO Lokataru, Haris Azhar, to the police for alleged defamation. The human rights activists discussed the report's findings in a video that was uploaded on Azhar’s YouTube Channel on 20 August 2021. The spokesperson of the ministry, Marves Jodi Mahardi, claimed in an interview with CNN that Luhut Pajaitan was not involved in gold exploitation at the Wabu Mountain in Intan Jaya.

Relations between high-ranking police and military officials were also found at PT ANTAM. The company is currently arranging concessions for the exploitation of the Wabu Block in Intan Jaya. According to the report, the retired military general Agus Surya Bakti holds the position of president commissioner, while the police general and main secretary of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), Bambang Sunarwibowo, is the commissioner.

The findings indicate economic interests behind a series of military operations in Intan Jaya, which Indonesian NGOs consider illegal. Article 7 (2) b and (3) of Law No.34/2004 on the Indonesian Military stipulates that all military operations which are not related to warfare, including overcoming armed separatist movements, overcoming armed rebellions, securing borders, and securing national vital objects, must be based on state policies and political decisions.

Neither the president nor the parliament has officially adopted policies for ongoing military operations in West Papua. Indonesian activists argue that the military operations against TPN PB in the regencies Nduga, Puncak and Intan Jaya serve to expel indigenous people from their land, making it easy for companies to establish their operations without facing resistance from the legitimate land rights holders.