Thursday, March 02, 2006

Papua



There are few, if any, areas of the world that are more "wild" and untouched and ancient and tribal and stoneage and uncharted and fascinating and diverse and complex and dangerous and backward and primordial and abundantly rich in minerals and timber and other natural resources than the island of Papua. Outside of Africa, it probably holds the most ancient lineages and cultures of mankind, and has probably had less contact with the "outside" world than even Africa.

"Few places on earth rival the diversity of New Guinea, and it has been said that the island "contains more strange and new and beautiful natural objects than any other part of the globe." The largest and highest tropical island in the world, New Guinea is split between the countries of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east and the Indonesia province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) in the west.

The island is blessed with remarkably diverse forests that are home to a rich variety species and cover about 65 percent of the land area of New Guinea. In fact, New Guinea has the largest remaining intact block of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific region and is the largest tropical rain forest after the Amazon and the Congo. The island's coastal systems contain some of the most pristine and largest tracts of mangroves in the world, while the lowlands and mountain areas contain as much as 124 million acres of tropical forests, notable for their highly rich island plant and animal life, much of which exists nowhere else in the world." See
It is a place far removed and far from the eyes and thoughts of most of the world. The major exceptions being the giant mining companies from the US and Australia, Asian lumber interests, and missionaries. It could be a garden of Eden if it weren't so temptingly exploitable, and corruptable.

It is such a grand economic prize that Indonesia just could not help itself annexing the West Papua half when it broke away from the Dutch colonial control just a few decades ago. It is an open secret that the Indonesian rigged the so-called election that allowed Indonesia to injest the province. But that is probably the most open part of our knowledge. Indonesia and Freeport Moran, the giant US mining concern that is exploiting the resources of the island, have kept a pretty tight rein on any "outsiders" having any scrutiny or influence on matters Papuan. And PNG is so bogged down in its own incompetencies and lack of cohesiveness that it seems to have no practical influence, either. The PNG east and the Indonesian west are so divided it is difficult to find a map that includes both halves of the Papuan Island with equal detail.

The issues surrounding Papua, policital, environmental, social, human rights, etc., are too complex to canvas here, and not that I have any knowledge anyway. I am only dimly aware of the matter, but wish to share my interest with you in the hope that if more of us become interested, perhaps the vested interests of the exploiters may be mitigated.

Some of the recent stories appearing the the Sydney Morning Herald can serve as a starting point for beginning to understand the situation in both the east and western parts of the island:

Protesters demand an end to plunder of Papua:
"A STONE-AGE bow and arrow shoot-out between tribesmen and guards at the giant Freeport gold and copper mine in Papua has snowballed into a stand-off symbolising Papuans' push for independence and their belief that their province is being plundered.

Freeport, the world's biggest goldmine, was forced to halt production in the Indonesian province last week after being blockaded by the tribesmen, who pan the tailings at the mine for scraps of gold. Although the US-owned mining company claimed last weekend to have ended the conflict with a traditional stone-burning ceremony and offers of assistance, Papuan students have continued to demonstrate daily in Jakarta.

And each day this week, hundreds of police have used water cannon to prevent rock-throwing students storming Freeport's headquarters. The protesters' demands have escalated: they now want the mine closed and Indonesian soldiers withdrawn from the province. Hundreds more have staged rallies in Papua's capital of Jayapura, while a tent-city opposing the mine has been erected in Timika, the nearest town to Freeport's mine, Indonesian police said.

Following a 24-hour sit-in at Papua's provincial parliament, some legislators yesterday endorsed the protesters' demands and promised to pursue them with Jakarta. One legislator, Hana Hikoyabi, said the contract between Freeport and the Government was secretive.

"The protest is an accumulation of years of disappointment," Mr Hikoyabi said. "We hope Freeport is willing to open up. Freeport has to realise the gold, copper and anything it mined in Timika belongs not to them, but to Papuans."

One of the Jakarta protest leaders, Marthen Goo, said the struggle was just beginning. "We have not received anything good from Freeport. We are going to protest until Freeport is shut."

A spokesman for Freeport, Siddharta Moersjid, said the company was very concerned about the continuing protest, but confused about the motivation. "This has nothing to do with what happened at the mine last week," he said.

Security forces had tried to clear illegal miners away from the banks of a river into which Freeport dumps its tailings. Police fired rubber bullets while the miners reportedly used bows and arrows.

Freeport has agreed local authorities could give permission to pan the tailings. Most of the hundreds of illegal panners have migrated to the area recently, attracted by rising gold prices. Freeport is experiencing growing pressure over its relationship with the Indonesian military in the province. An investigation has been called into revelations that Freeport made direct payments to soldiers who guarded the mine."


Papua travel ban halts abuse scrutiny: envoy :
"THE Indonesian Government is preventing human rights observers from monitoring the situation in Papua amid "worrying" reports of abuses in the troubled province, says the United Nations' special envoy on the prevention of genocide, Juan Mendez. In an interview with the Herald, Mr Mendez also said the UN was prepared to step in and mediate a solution to the long-running tensions in the province.

"It's very worrying and there's evidence about violence that's continued since 1963. It's important that we look closely at the conflict now and make sure it's not getting out of hand," he said. "We certainly have it under our inquiry but it's hard to assess the situation on the ground … it's hard to know what is going on in West Papua."

Asked if he was prepared to act as a mediator between the Government and separatists, Mr Mendez said "absolutely", although that would require an invitation from both parties.

Indonesia has been tightly restricting human rights experts from the UN, academia and non-government organisations from visiting Papua for years, a ban on unfettered access that has extended to foreign media for at least the past 18 months.

Chris Ballard, an expert on Papua from the Australian National University, said he had been banned from entering the province since 2001. In the absence of independent scrutiny, he said the assurances from Indonesian leaders had to be treated with caution. "When the [Indonesian] foreign minister makes a statement that there aren't human rights abuses in Papua, there's absolutely no way of telling if it's the truth," he said.

Senior Indonesian ministers have vehemently denied that indigenous Papuans are being repressed."


Corruption blamed for rainforest destruction:
"ASIAN logging companies are openly defying the law and cutting down Papua New Guinea's rainforests, thanks to corruption and government inaction, a new report alleges.

A Washington environmental group, Forest Trends, linked loggers, mainly from Malaysia, to Papua New Guinea's political elite. It described working conditions as "modern-day slavery" and said forests were effectively being logged out.

While the Government had policies, laws and regulations to ensure sustainable timber production, these were not being enforced, the report said.

It identified "a political vacuum with no demonstrated government interest in controlling the problems in the sector".

The president of Forest Trends, Michael Jenkins, said landowners needed funding and advice to fight loggers in the courts. "Papua New Guinea's legal system does exist outside of political control, and the courts have a track record of ruling against illegal logging."

The report summarised the findings of government-commissioned independent reviews of the timber industry between 2000 and 2005. It is dominated by Malaysian interests and focused on round-log exports - mainly to China, Japan and South Korea - with many of the logs processed in China sent on to Europe and North America.

Forest Trends' program manager for finance and trade, Kerstin Canby, said corruption had devastated rural living standards and ignored the basic rights of landowners.

"There are a few logging operations in the country which are deemed beneficial to both local landowners and the country, but they are lost in a sea of bad operators," she said. "The Government needs to support these companies, or risk having the international community boycott all of PNG's exports."


PNG's anti-corruption chief faces charge:
"Papua New Guinea's new corruption buster is in hiding, accused of taking bribes from Asian people smugglers.

Police Chief Superintendent Awan Sete became a fugitive about two weeks ago and is on a list of 66 police officers swept up in internal police investigations since 2003.

He had recently been appointed head of the PNG police's fraud and anti-corruption squad.

"It is an irony that someone who is at the helm of investigating fraud and anti-corruption in PNG is now wanted on charges of corruption," said Assistant Police Commissioner Raphael Huafolo.

He said in a statement that Sete faced three charges and other officers had been served with departmental or criminal charges for corrupt activities.

Three court warrants had been issued for Sete's arrest for corruptly receiving free accommodation and a car and for dealing with Asians suspected of people smuggling, Huafolo said.

Sete had obtained a court order to restrain police from arresting him but police lawyers were seeking to set aside that order so the arrest warrants could be executed, he said.

Police were investigating Asian businessmen connected with people smuggling, illegal entry of foreigners, passport and identity fraud and illegal prostitution, drug and casino activities.

Many of the police officers on the corruption list face charges of corruptly receiving money from Asian crime syndicates involved in operating outlawed horse race gaming machines.

PNG's Police Minister Bire Kimisopa has acknowledged a culture of corruption and violence within PNG's constabulary and has called for efforts to clean up the force.

A renegotiated police assistance package due to be introduced early this year under Australia's Enhanced Cooperation Program is set to have a focus on fighting corruption in PNG.

Corruption at the political level, within PNG's bureaucracy and within agencies such as the police has long been a problem in the Pacific nation."


And this from the UK's The Independent adds more detail to the SMH story above: Papua New Guinea accused of ignoring illegal timber trade:
"The pristine forests of Papua New Guinea are at risk of being wiped out through illegal and unsustainable logging by a timber industry mired in corruption, according to an investigation by a Washington-based think-tank.

Export documents validating the timber in effect "launder" illegally logged tropical hardwood, says a report by Forest Trends, a non-profit environmental organisation.

Government-appointed inspectors of Papua New Guinea's timber exports verify the quantity and description of the logs to ensure that export taxes are paid, but they give little heed to the legality of the timber operations themselves, with the result that the official documentation can give the impression that the wood was lawfully produced when it was in fact logged illegally, claimed Forest Trends.

"Thus, official export documentation merely launders the 'unlawful' timber into legitimately-produced exports accepted by governments and retailers worldwide," says the organisation's report.

Much of the forest industry in the country is focused on harvesting natural forest areas, for exports of raw timber logs. The Malaysian-owned timber operations export the logs primarily to China, Japan and Korea, where they are processed into products destined for Europe and North America. Mr Jenkins called on China to take a lead in ensuring that the timber it imports from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are from lawful and sustainable operations that are free from corruption.

The Forest Trends report summarises five independent reviews of Papua New Guinea's forests conducted between 2000 and 2005, which were commissioned by the government in response to criticisms that logging operations were not providing long-term benefit to the nation.

The report covers 14 logging operations in an area of 3.17 million hectares with a population of 83,000 people. In 2004, these operations produced 1.3 million cubic metres of logs worth £44m in exports. "None of these 14 projects can be defined as legal and only one project manages to meet more than half of the key criteria set for a lawful logging operation," Forest Trust's report says."


See

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