Sweden and Indonesia deepen military ties amidst West Papua conflict. Indonesian defense minister Prabowo Subianto—accused of human rights violations in the 1990s democratic uprising and occupied East Timor—wishes to further deepen the ties to its Scandinavian partner. Sweden, on the other hand, “are aware” of the ongoing conflict in West Papua—but considers trade as a way into political influence.
By Klas Lundström
Indonesian House of Representatives Commission 1—which oversees foreign affairs and security—has handed the government, led by President Joko Widodo, the green light to “the ratification of a defense cooperation deal between Indonesia and Sweden,” reports The Jakarta Post.
Defense minister Prabowo Subianto was summoned to a commission hearing on Wednesday, September 30, where he underlined the urgency of the House’s approval of the bill:
“I hope the House will pass the bill into law as soon as possible,” the defense minister said, reports The Jakarta Post.
Deeper defense cooperation
The Swedish defense department has been given the opportunity to comment on the Indonesian House’s nod to the ratification of the defense deal, but are, however, “unable to comment on the media reports within such a short time frame.”
“Prabowo said the Swedish government has certified the agreement that was mentioned in a diplomatic note on October 11, 2017, sent from the Swedish Embassy in Jakarta to the Indonesian foreign affairs ministry, which at the time had not been ratified by the Indonesian government”, reports Tempo Magazine.
The deal—as presented in Indonesian media outlets—include a number of defense aspects, such as exchange of information, and maritime, research and defense industry cooperation, according to Prabowo Subianto.
Sweden and Indonesia are also said to deepen their collaboration regarding training and military exercises.
Controversial politician wishes for more
The Indonesian defense minister is a controversial political figure with a “blood-stained past”, violating human rights while serving as commander in chief for the military’s special units, Kopassus, in the late 1990s, according to Amnesty International. In 1998, then-dictator Suharto resigned from his presidential post after over thirty years in absolute power—much due to the killings of pro-democracy protestors in Jakarta, by the hands and orders of Kopassus. Prabowo Subianto has also been accused of human rights violations in East Timor, occupied by Indonesia between 1975 and 1999.
Prabowo Subianto, however, remains a staunch figure in Indonesia’s inner political chambers; since 2019, as the nation’s defense minister. In that role, he is determent to strengthen Indonesia’s global defense contacts. Sweden is one interesting partner in that regard, and Prabowo Subianto considers the now House-proved defense agreement between the two countries as a potential steppingstone for Indonesia’s defense industry to enter new territories within its Swedish ditto.
In November 2019, Prabowo Subianto met with Indonesian Ambassador to explore further cooperation with Sweden, reports The Jakarta Post. During the meeting, “the minister expressed interest in Sweden’s defense technology, particularly missiles and radar.”
“Unfortunate signals in dark times”
Indonesia’s military cooperation with other countries send “unfortunate signals in a dark time” of an increased military presence in West Papua, according to West Papuan human rights activists. The Indonesian military has since December 2018 conducted numerous operations against the armed West Papuan independence movement, OPM (“Free Papua Movement,” Organisasi Papua Merdeka)—forcing over 40,000 civilians to flee their homes, into a life as internally displaced citizen—while peaceful independence advocates are being arrested.
“In a time when pacific nations push for a UN led inspection of the human rights situation is West Papua, defense deals between Sweden and Indonesia shouldn’t be the priority, but instead focusing on investigating the deaths of civilians. Among them, the killing of a 63-year-old Pastor and the mass arrests of students,” says Raki Ap, member of the Dutch Green Party—and himself a West Papuan refugee active in the European-based independence movement for an independent West Papua—to Global Magazine.
On Monday, September 28, Indonesian military police entered a university campus in the city of Jayapura, in northern West Papua, firing gun shots against students, protesting against the province’s “autonomy” status, which many independence activists scorn as merely a word, while the reality in West Papua is formed around “structural racism” and “mass exploitation of natural resources,” mainly gold and copper extracted from the Grasberg mine.
“West Papuans are being treated as second class citizens, and structural racism keep the local people unemployed and away from political office,” a human rights activist says to Global Magazine, and who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Indonesian authorities’ fierce actions at the university campus in Jayapura is but the latest evidence of the spiral of violence, with which Jakarta is dictating West Papua. Recently, some 200 independence activists were arrested after mass demonstrations all over West Papua—half of the arrests occurred in the town of Nabire—in the wake of the killing of a 63-year-old Reverend, outside the town of Hitadipa, who died by the hands of Indonesian soldiers, according to unanimous witnesses.
“Aware of the situation”
The Swedish government and Foreign Ministry “are aware” of the situation in West Papua, “which differs” from the rest of Indonesia. In a statement to Global Magazine, the Foreign Ministry underlines the importance of trade.
“In recent years, Sweden has strengthened its bilateral relations with Indonesia. In the Embassy’s contacts with Indonesia—including annual bilateral consultation—human rights, democracy and the rule of law are high up on the agenda. Opportunities to highlight these issues are also provided through increased business cooperation,” the Foreign Ministry’s press office says in a written statement.
“West Papuans are completely run over by the Indonesian provincial government”, a scientist with many years of experience working in both Indonesia and West Papua says to Global Magazine.
The situation in West Papua is—the anonymous source underlines—“totally unsustainable.”
“Indonesia has put in place an incredibly sophisticated surveillance system,” the scientist says. “A system that strikes down hard against every little expression of dissatisfaction with the way of things in today’s West Papua.”