A coalition of 30 international human rights organisations has warned that a new US$6 billion gas project could worsen the security situation in Papua, the troubled Indonesian region that has recently experienced a rise in tensions.
The Tangguh liquefied natural gas project in Bintuni Bay is spearheaded by BP, which owns more than 37 per cent of the operations and claims to have secured contracts with China, South Korea and the US. The fields contain 407 billion cubic metres of gas and should be operational later this year.
In a letter to BP chief executive Tony Hayward, the coalition said that the operation was likely to lead to an increase in the militarisation of the region and abuses against the local population. 'The Indonesian military's past record suggests that it is likely to adopt a highly intimidatory approach, giving rise to possible conflicts with the local and wider Papuan community,' the coalition said.
Although there is no firm, independent evidence of an increased military presence, local sources have said that there has been a bigger presence of the Kopassus special forces group - troops notorious for a string of charges over gross human rights violations, Brimob police special operations personnel (also known for violations and killings), intelligence agents and other non-uniformed security forces personnel.
In November 2006, LP3BH, an NGO based in Manokwari that provides human rights training for BP, pointed out that the administrative changes in Bintuni Bay that followed the Tangguh project, would result in a new military command.
The coalition's letter also pointed out that the project is regarded by some Papuans as an obstacle to their political aspirations, and that BP is seen as a collaborator in Jakarta's exploitation of Papua's natural resources. Papua is among Indonesia's richest soils, but the standard of living of the local population remains among the lowest in the archipelago.
The coalition initiative was prompted by BP's decision not to extend the mandate of the Tangguh Independent Advisory Panel, a body set up by BP, chaired by former US senator George Mitchell, and formerly made adviser on non-commercial aspects of the project.
According to the coalition, 'the external scrutiny of Tangguh's political, economic, social and environmental impact is essential throughout the duration of the project'.
BP former communications officer Victor Tjahjadi said that 'he was no longer in the capacity to answer as he has been moved to another department', and the current officer, Desi Unijaya, failed to answer the phone for two days.
The letter comes at a time when Papua has witnessed a rise in tensions, with a string of pro-independence demonstrations taking place.
Jack Wanggai, spokesman for the West Papua National Authority, which represents the pro-independence movement and claims to be a shadow government, said that protests would continue and were 'aimed at pushing for a new referendum to decide on the region's future'.
Papua People's Assembly chairman Agus Alua argued that while a referendum was an option, the immediate concern was the full implementation of the special autonomy the region was granted in 2001.
'Our demand is simple: we want Jakarta to show goodwill in implementing the special autonomy .'
British lion's share
BP owns more than 37 per cent of the Tangguh liquefied natural gas project in Bintuni Bay
The amount of gas in billions of cubic metres estimated to be held there: 407