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Drew Grant and the Organisasi Papua Merdeka

Categories: Arc of instability, Australian Federal Police, Indonesia, Mining, Neo-Colonialism

by: Bakchos
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Firstly I want to dispel any illusions that my heading might have created about Mr Grant being in any way connected to the Organisasi Papua Merdeka. The connection between the two lies solely in the fact that over the weekend I was fortunate to meet people associated with the free West Papua movement, who were visiting from Europe.

Over drinks I posed a question about the murder of Mr Drew Grant at the Freeport Mine in 2009. Specifically I wanted to know if there was any direct connection between Mr Grant’s employment at the mine and his murder. I was looking for a connection that went beyond the obvious issue of opportunism by or on behalf of the Indonesian Military.

The surprising response posed by my West Papuan friends from Europe that Mr Grant was murdered solely because the Indonesian Military wanted to make a very public statement about the continued security threat to the mine by local insurgents. Murdering a local would not have been newsworthy outside of West Papua, so it appears that a decision was made to murder a foreigner in an effort to draw in the world’s media. Mr Grant, in this scenario, was nothing more than the unlucky ‘successful’ candidate.

Background to Mr Grant’s murder

The island of New Guinea has been inhabited for at least 40,000 years. The first inhabitants, probably originating from South East Asia, were joined some 5,000 years ago by more recent arrivals who settled in the islands and the areas along the coast. It is understood that merchants from Java, Sumatra and probably India were trading with the local Papuans for products such as spices, coral or pearls some 2,000 years ago.

The first contact by a European is credited to the Portuguese navigator, Antonio d’Abreu, who spotted the Aru Islands on the South Coast of Papua in 1511.

In 1828, the Netherlands annexed the western half of the Island of New Guinea to protect their interests in the region (in particular the Spice Islands west of West Papua, today Maluku Islands). Britain and Germany divided between themselves the remainder of the island of New Guinea in 1885.

The Netherlands established trading ports in West Papua in 1898 and maintained them until the Japanese invasion of 1942. After the war, secret negotiations between the newly independent Republic of Indonesia and the Dutch government led to the territory being placed under temporary Indonesian administration (1963) pending the results of a national vote on independence.

After the controversial 1969 Act of Free Choice (only 1,046 people were consulted and they overwhelmingly supported integration with Indonesia), West Papua was officially declared part of Indonesia. The territory became an autonomous province in the same year and was renamed Irian Jaya in 1973.

Since 1963, an armed resistance movement – Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement) – has been fighting for the independence of the territory.

West Papua was created from the western portion of Papua province in February 2003, initially under the name of Irian Jaya Barat; it was renamed Papua Barat (West Papua) on 7 February 2007.

In November 2004, an Indonesian court agreed that the split violated Papua’s autonomy laws. However, the court ruled that because the new province had already been created, it should remain separate from Papua. The ruling also prohibited the creation of another proposed province, Central Irian Jaya, as that division had not yet been formalised.

The Freeport Mine

The PT Freeport McMoran Mine was established in 1967 and eventually become the largest copper and gold mine in the world and Indonesia’s largest foreign taxpayer. Additionally it became an Indonesian military cash cow. Despite this, Freeport has had a rocky relationship with the Indonesian military and more recently, with the Indonesian police. The key irritant in Freeport – security force relations – has been money.

In 1996 the Indonesian military secretly organised a violent demonstration at Freeport’s headquarters in Tembagapura and in the support town of Timika. A senior Freeport executive reportedly told a US Embassy officer at that time, that the dispute was over whether Freeport would fund the establishment of a battalion base for Kopassus, Indonesia’s infamous ‘special forces’. Following the incidents the funding flowed.

In 2002 a Freeport reduction in funds paid to the Indonesian military for security services preceded an attack on Freeport employees travelling on the Tembagapura–Timika road, which then as now was tightly guarded by the military. The one person indicted by a US court for the attack, which took the lives of two Americans and one Indonesian, had long ties to the military. Nevertheless, in what many international observers believe to have been a travesty of justice, the Indonesian court convicted only Papuans whom it alleged had ties to the small and very lightly armed Papuan resistance (OPM).

Despite there being significant evidence suggesting an Indonesian military role in the murders, neither the Indonesian court nor the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were willing interrogate this evidence. Significantly, the Indonesian police investigation, which indicated both a role and the existence of a motive in the form of Freeport’s reduction of funding for the military, was ignored and the investigation was taken over by the military.

In mid July 2009, another spate of violence erupted in the Freeport domain as unidentified gunmen shot and killed Mr. Drew Grant on the tightly guarded Tembagapura–Timika road. Subsequent attacks at or near the same site took the lives of three more in the following days. While senior military personnel, as in 2002, immediately blamed the shootings on the Papuan resistance, the senior police official in West Papua said he saw no evidence of their involvement. As in 2002, information developed by the Indonesian police, including ballistics evidence, pointed to the role of Indonesian security forces. As in 2002, however, the military entered the investigation and its role in the investigation has precluded the development of evidentiary leads suggesting a military role. Statements by senior Indonesian military officers assigning blame for the shootings to the small Papuan armed resistance despite a lack of evidence, prove that, as in the past, a military investigation will be prejudiced.

Again as in 2002, disputes over money and rivalry among the various security actors at Freeport form the backdrop for understanding the violence. Under current arrangements, Freeport funding for security flows to the military through the police. Various sources indicate the military is not happy with this relationship. Also, over the years, local civilians have worked tailings from the Freeport mining operation to extract remnant gold and copper. Sources in Timika report that the militarised police, ‘BRIMOB’, control this lucrative, illegal trade. Freeport has enlisted the help of both police and military security forces to curb this trade. Finally, Kopassus continue to play a strong role in West Papua. Their brutal treatment of Papuan civilians and impunity were detailed in a June 21, 2009 Human Rights Watch report. Sources in West Papua note that there is tension within Kopassus between those who support the former Kopassus commander General Prabowo and those who do not.

At this juncture it is also worth remembering Australia’s role in the cover-up over who murdered Mr. Grant. Australian Federal Police officers were sent to Timika to assist the Indonesian investigation.

In keeping with apparent Australian Federal Police investigation protocols, the investigation into the shooting death of Mr. Grant has been far from transparent, which has served no other purpose than to add to the mystery surrounding the shooting.

Evidence was tampered with, and bullets in Mr. Grant’s body were removed before the pathologist was able to conduct the autopsy, whilst in the custody of Australian Embassy officials.

Have the Australian Federal Police been used in an attempt to cover the identity of those who were really responsible for Mr Grant’s shooting? Whilst the actual bullets that killed Mr Grant have gone missing, the Indonesian State news agency Antara has revealed that bullet casings recovered from the scene were specially made by PT PINDAD for the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI). Australia supplies Aus Steyr rifles, which use the bullets found. If the weapons used in the shootings are found to be of Australian supply for TNI use, questions must be raised.

While considering Australia’s role in covering up the identity of those responsible for Mr. Grant’s murder which in itself helps to further brutalise and undermine the indigenous people of the region, it is worth remembering that a defining characteristic of colonialism is the exploitation and brutalisation of a people by non-native forces in collusion with similarly non-native monied interests. Invariably, this collusion persists with impunity and notwithstanding tortured appeals by the colonised people for redress.

In recent years Papuans have directed such appeals to Jakarta and to the international community, pleading for an internationally facilitated dialogue between the Indonesian government and Papuans to address decades of abusive policies and marginalisation targeting Papuans. Only through such a dialogue can the fundamentally colonial relationship between Jakarta and West Papua be addressed.


  1. Oz2604 says:

    The Australian government has never provided (sold, loaned, gifted) a single steyr rifle to the Indonesian police or military.
    TNI (military) does not use Steyrs. Gegana (bomb specialists from the Police Mobile Brigade) do… but they are Austrain (European) imports.
    The majority of OPM ammunition is sourced through raiding Polri or TNI outposts….hence finding PINDAD-produced shell cases at an incident site unfortunately proves nothing about perpetrators other than the fact that they were using PINDAD ammunition.

    We all need a little more subjectivity regarding these issues. Our penchant to emphatically rush to blame one actor–usually TNI, notwithstanding that a hypothesis about motivation is reasonable–undermines the credibility or our position as dispassionate, human-rights universalists does it not?

  1. […] link: Drew Grant and the Organisasi Papua Merdeka | Blak and Black June 12th, 2011 | Tags: after-the-war, indonesia, japanese, netherlands, newly-independent, papua, […]

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