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Papuan self-determination - historical roots XI

Arie Brand's exellent and exclusive backgrounder on West Papua continues.

Part I Economically "worthless"?
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'
Part III Strategic Considerations
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement
Part V The Round Table Conference
Part VI 1950 -The first year test
Part VII Dutch-Indonesian relations - From bad to worse
Part VIII Gradual Evolution
Part IX A poorly briefed US Ambassador
Part X The 'Bunker-Agreement'

Part XI - Untea I

by Arie Brand

Early in 1963 Harold Luckham, former British colonial civil servant in Malaya, and then Divisional Commissioner for UNTEA in Fak fak, Papua, got word that his services were no longer appreciated and that he should arrange for his departure. Why was this? The UNTEA administration was, after all, supposed to finish on the first of May that year. Harold Luckham was suspected of the ultimate offence in the UNTEA period: being 'anti-Indonesian'. That is he had reacted as a reasonable human being to unreasonable provocations. What Luckham had come up against was the prickly patriotism of Major Untung, the commander of the Indonesian paratroops who were supposed to have their quarters in Sisir, a virtually uninhabited place somewhat east of the Fak fak subdivision of Kaimana.

Major Untung, then a middle ranking officer in Batallion 454 of the Diponegoro Division, would later, as Lieutenant Colonel Untung and commander of one of the three battalions of the Tjakrabirawa Palace Guard, acquire notoriety as one of the alleged leaders of the so-called Gestapu-coup of September 1965, the aborted coup that led to one of the greatest massacres in modern history. The facts about this coup are not yet entirely clear but Untung claimed that he acted because he suspected that a CIA-inspired 'council of generals' was intent on removing Sukarno from his position of leadership. One version has it that some of the coup plotters, such as a Colonel Latief, had taken Suharto, then still several steps away from the army top, into their confidence and that Suharto did not participate in the coup but did nothing to prevent it either until Untung and his accomplices had eliminated his military competitors, the five murdered generals. In addition Suharto managed to clip the wings of Sukarno and to have a showdown with the PKI, then the largest communist party outside the communist bloc. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred and another few hundred thousand tortured and thrown into prison without trial for long years. In the process Untung, who knew Suharto well (Suharto had, for instance, once taken the trouble to travel to a fairly remote place in Central Java to attend Untung's wedding there) was thrown to the wolves. He was summarily executed.

Luckham's conflict with or rather about this ill-fated officer was a long distance one. He had never met Untung. I had.

At the very beginning of the UNTEA-period I was asked to fly to Kaimana by amphibious plane to check up on the situation there. When we landed on Kaimana bay I saw a group of people on the jetty that, when we came nearer, turned out to consist of a Dutch lieutenant and two Indonesian officers, plus a group of bystanders. The conversation between these officers was obviously far from friendly. It appeared they were arguing about a set of radio transmitters that were meant for the Indonesian camp but that an Indonesian plane had thrown out above the Dutch camp. The Indonesians wanted their radios. The Dutch guy, who obviously regarded this as rightfully acquired war booty, refused. One of the Indonesian officers, who according to his name-tag was called Hero, was already muttering about getting them by force. This would have been a very ill-advised move because the Dutch, who were due for repatriation in the next few weeks, were then still there with about a thousand heavily armed and entrenched marines whereas the Indonesian camp had only about a hundred lightly armed paratroopers who had been dropped above the territory before the armistice.

The Papuan district officer, a commonsensical and firm man (I hate to think of what might have happened to him afterwards) and I managed to persuade these officers to continue their argument at the District Office (where I had worked six years earlier). After a long discussion that, as far as the Dutchman was concerned, revolved around the concepts 'your own fault' and 'property', we managed to persuade him to hand over these sets that were of no use to him but meant a life-line for the Indonesian camp. I remember that he became very indignant however when the Indonesians wanted to push their luck and also asked for a few crates of beer.

We, the Papuan district officer and myself, decided next day to visit the Indonesian camp, that could only be approached over sea, in an effort to build on the goodwill that we thought we had acquired. When we approached the camp after a boat trip of several hours we saw the Indonesian flag fluttering there. This was against the Agreement that only allowed this flag to be hoisted at the beginning of 1963, but under the circumstances it seemed to me wiser not to mention this. Though for the last part of our journey we had approached this camp over a very quiet bay where you could hear a vessel approaching for hours ahead, there seemed to be nobody there to welcome us. We had to search through the camp to find Untung who was at the very end of it, at the center of a table surrounded by his officers. The opening gambit of his conversation reinforced the 'trip to Canossa' atmosphere that his scanty welcome had engendered. He presumed, he said, that since we had taken the trouble to come and visit him, that he could do something for us. So how could he help us.

This was a remarkable question from a man whose troops were almost totally cut off from the outside world and still lacked all necessities. So we kept our requests limited to an appeal to his conversational gifts. But he, a quite short but dignified man, was the taciturn type and left the conversation largely to us and his officers. Nevertheless we parted in a friendly atmosphere or so it seemed to us. Shortly afterwards we intercepted a telegram in which he exhorted some Indonesian civil servants in Fak fak to keep an eye on my Dutch colleague district officer and myself. I found it ironical that this exhortation was transmitted through the radio sets I had helped to secure for him.

As said, our boss, Divisional Commissioner Harold Luckham, had to leave his post earlier than foreseen because of a conflict about this Indonesian officer. Luckham didn't give us any details at the time and I have only become aware of these much later through John Saltford's 2000 PhD thesis about the UNTEA period (see www.papuaweb.org). Saltford had his information from a report that Luckham sent to the British Foreign Office in May 1963, a few months after his repatriation. Since this conflict seems to me quite characteristic for the nature of the UNTEA-administration I will relate here what Saltford tells us about it.

In January 1963 a Papuan policeman in Kaimana removed an Indonesian flag that was raised at a residence there. This led to a brawl between (unarmed) pro and anti-Indonesian Papuans, at which Major Untung saw fit to move 60 of his paratroopers into town. He had no business doing so. The Indonesian troops were there on sufferance and officially had no role at all during the UNTEA-period. Law and order were supposed to be maintained by the police and the UN Pakistani troops of which there was a detachment in Kaimana. Luckham reported that Untung seems to have contemplated a direct attack on the police but was restrained by a patrol of the Pakistani. He requested the Administrator of the region, the Iranian Dr Abdoh, to order Untung's men to return to their quarters in Sisir and wrote him in a telegram:

(Oentong) is quite unreliable and still set on trouble... Flag raising Sunday intended provocation by pro-Indonesians but incident settled without fuss until Para Command intervened about 8 hours later. Continued interference by paratroopers makes administration impossible. (Saltford, op cit)

Abdoh's reaction must have quite dismayed Luckham. He refused to order Untung to leave Kaimana and wanted instead that Luckham dismissed the police involved and the Papuan District Officer who seems to have had nothing to do with the affair. As a palliative he put the Kaimana Papuan police under the command of some Indonesian police officers hoping that this would make Untung's men less inclined to attack them. In addition he castigated Luckham personally. He enquired:

Why was he not aware of policy, namely that any private person can fly any flag he likes, especially the Indonesian flag, on his private property without let or hindrance? Please ensure police unit thoroughly lectured on policy concerning flags and importance of not insulting in any way to Indonesia. Ensure also civil administration personnel thoroughly briefed on policy re: flags and importance of not giving insult in any way or form to Indonesia … Must emphasise your duty as resident is to maintain law and order despite presence of Indonesian troops. Please confirm you feel competent to ensure this (Saltford, op cit).

Luckham, who was an honest man, refused to obey these orders, particularly the one concerning the dismissal of the Papuan district officer. On the contrary, he regarded that officer as very ill used by these Indonesian soldiers who would occasionally just walk into his office, grab the papers on his desk and read these.

Luckham had to go.

Why was Abdoh so concerned about giving offence to the Indonesians who should, by rights, not have played any substantial role at all during this interim UN administration?

To be continued

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