Rumbling in paradise
The Advertiser, Wednesday 24-5-1977
The lovely, primitive Irian Jaya is reportedly stirring with killings,
kidnappings and violence. DAVID JENKINS in Jakarta says Indonesias rulers
are concerned that it might become more than just tribal unrest.
For more than a month evidence has been building up about a wave of
killing and kidnapping in Irian Jaya.
This is the lovely, primitive land which Indonesia wrested from the Dutch
Government during the Sixties. It is the western half of the island of New
At Arso, 50 kilometres south of the provincial capital of Jaya-pura nearly a
dozen local officials were hacked to death on April 7 in a series of murders
related to the Indonesian election campaign.
The same day, near Paget, 110 kilometres to the south-west, there were small
tribal disturbances which culminated in a raid by local tribesmen on the
village police post.
More serious still was an outbreak of violence in the remote Baliem Valley,
high in the mountainous backbone of New Guinea, about 300 kilometres
south-west of Jayapura, between April 20 and 28.
According to well-placed resources in Jakarta, the trouble began at Kobakma
on April 20 during a soccer match between troops and Dani tribesmen.
Following a brawl, tribesmen raided the local police post killing three or
four of the defenders and kidnapping another 12. They took with them a
number of ancient, bolt-action rifles and a small supply of ammunition.
Between 6 and 12 local people are said to have died in the fighting.
During the following week there were four other serious incidents in the
Baliem Valley, all within a 40-kilometre radius.
In each case, locals waving spears attacked police posts and then dug
trenches across nearby grass airstrips to prevent reinforcements being flown
In some places, they also drove stakes into the ground as a further obstacle
for incoming aircraft.
These tactics, reminiscent of measures adopted by anti-Indonesian forces
during the Sixties, were crude but effective. Late in April a small mission
plane was badly damaged as it attempted to land at Kobakma. Said one source:
"The pilot had his wings torn off as he did a slalom through the stakes."
Since then, there have been more clashes in the valley as police and army
units continue their search operation for the kidnapped policemen.
The trouble has spread as far as Wamena, the district capital 30
kilometres to the south-east where a crowd early this month damaged a
Merpati Nusantara Airlines plane with sticks and stones.
Missionaries have been flown out of the valley to Sentani near Jayapura.
Convinced that the trouble may spread still further as news of the unrest
seeps through the isolated mountain valleys, the Government has sent in
reinforcements and increased patrols. However, these actions could provoke
Some concern has been expressed in Jakarta over "some slight
anti-Government activity" at Tīmika, on the southern coast, close to the
loading facility for a huge copper project.
But the Government has said little about the unrest in Irian Jaya. The only
official comment has come from the Foreign Minister (Mr. Malik), who denied
rumours that there had been an armed rebellion in the territory.
Referring to the Kobakma incident, Mr. Malik said two ethnic groups had
clashed at a football match and security troops had intervened and broken up
"Fights caused by disputes at football matches happen everywhere," he said.
Privately, senior officials admit that they are concerned. They claim that
three or four members of the banned OPM (Free Papua Movement) provoked the
incidents in the highlands.
To some observers, that seems unlikely. One source said: "There may have
been an OPM connection in the Arso murders. But I don't believe that the
movement had anything to do with the trouble in the Baliem Valley.
It's just the sort of tribal unrest you get in those places from time to
Irian Jaya may not become a serious trouble spot. But given the nagging
history of opposition to Indonesian rule, in some quarters Jakarta is
watching developments closely.
It is understandably concerned lest localised tribal clashes develop into
outbreaks of violence directed primarily at the "outsiders" (non-Papuans)
who run the affairs of the vast, underdeveloped province.