Sunday, July 14, 2013

PNG extradition treaty forces political activists to flee


Danny Kogoya, the commander of the Free Papua Movement's militant wing, is currently on the run, fearing re-arrest by the PNG government. PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane meets him at a camp on the PNG border, but finds his interview doesn't quite go to plan.

Source: Correspondents Report | Duration: 7min 42sec

SIMON SANTOW: Last week, the ABC's stand-in PNG (Papua New Guinea) correspondent Liam Cochrane made a trip to the far north-west of Papua New Guinea to meet a rebel commander of the Free Papua Movement.
Indonesia keeps foreign media out of the disputed provinces of Papua and West Papua, so the best way to get first hand information is either to sneak in illegally or to try and meet activists as they take refuge across the border.
Liam took the legal option, and here is his report.
LIAM COCHRANE: The four-wheel-drive had been bouncing along a logging road for about an hour when my contact, the go-between to the West Papua rebel commander, turned to me in the back seat and said: "Leon" - which is close enough - "Leon, I need to ask you one question."
I thought, 'Ah, this is the point where he sounds me out about my politics and what I think of the West Papuan movement.'
I readied myself for a diplomatic, neutral answer.
"Leon", he said, "Where can I buy guns?"
I had to laugh and explain I really wasn't the right person to help him procure weapons. I explained I was an independent journalist and my value to him was in getting the story in international media.
That story had two main elements - meet Danny Kogoya, a commander of the Free Papua Movement's militant wing, and visit a base near the border where I'd been told 200 armed men were taking refuge.
The news angle was an extradition treaty recently signed by Papua New Guinea and Indonesia that PNG's opposition argued could be used to send back activists and fighters like Danny Kogoya.
Two weeks ago I'd never heard of Danny Kogoya, but an article in the local paper told of his arrest last September, during which he was shot in the leg. He was jailed, released and then, he says, threatened with re-arrest. So he fled across the border.
The one thing missing from the story was the fact that Danny Kogoya's shot-up leg had been amputated below the knee - to be exact, the story said he was "nursing a deep cut and a fractured leg", which I guess is technically correct.
Mr Kogoya was extremely happy to see a foreign journalist. He didn't speak English and I didn't speak Indonesian, but he hugged for a long time when we first met.
And later he kept shaking my hand and smiling broadly as we sat in the back seat.
In the tray of the vehicle were six young men, unarmed but acting as out security as we made our way to the border. At most stops, Danny and I had to stay inside the car behind the tinted windows to avoid attracting attention.
At one roadside market however, I was allowed out and the go-between sliced open a coconut - a welcome drink in the hot sun.
Most of the men bought bunches of betel nut, the mild stimulant that stains teeth dark red and they chewed and spat the red liquid out for the rest of the journey.
(Engine noise)
When we finally got to Camp Victoria, a few kilometres inside Papua New Guinea's border with Indonesia, the place was empty and the grass was knee high.
It was only then explained to me that the 200 fighters said to be under Danny's command had been sent out on long patrols across Indonesia's Papua province. They were said to be fanning out to help with the annual July 1 ceremonies that mark the anniversary of a declaration of independence that has not become a reality on the ground.
On this day, July 1, it's common for activists to raise the Morning Star flag, the symbol of the West Papuan independence movement that is banned in Indonesia. In the past, flag-raising ceremonies have attracted brutal retribution from Indonesian authorities.
But at Camp Victoria there was no flag, no guns, and no fighters.
This was quite a let-down.
For years, people have questioned just how strong the Free Papua Movement's military wing really is and this trip was supposed to be a chance to meet rebel fighters without breaking the law and sneaking across the border.
But I still had Danny Kogoya, the one-legged commander, and so I got busy setting up for an interview.
(Danny Kogoya speaking in foreign language)
DANNY KOGOYA(translated): I want Jacob Prai and those in Swedish...
LIAM COCHRANE: It was hard going.
Many of my questions were probing the level of support for Danny's cause and trying to get a sense of whether there was any change in strategy, considering the lack of tangible results in previous decades.
It was perhaps not the kind of advocacy journalism Danny was used.
Many of Danny's answers were variations of, "I want independence for West Papua", or things like "we need to come together and join hands for the freedom of West Papua".
And I had a growing feeling that my translator, a supporter of the West Papua movement, was embellishing Danny's answers and giving me what he thought I wanted to hear.
Towards the end of the interview, one of his translations went for about four times as long as Danny's response and involved a grisly accusation of cannibalism that didn't seem to have much to do with the question I'd asked.
Light was fading and we wrapped it up, heading to a local village for a communal meal of rice and instant noodles before heading to bed with promises of a military ceremony at 6am sharp.
Throughout the night, the village drunkards had a party in full swing, and music blared until dawn. Nobody told them to be quiet; nobody wanted to be on the wrong side of a drunk man's bush knife.
By morning, the overgrown Camp Victoria had been given a makeover thanks to three commandeered machetes and there was a flag pole in the centre of the clearing flying the Morning Star flag.
Perhaps not surprisingly for this part of the world, the 6am show of arms was a little ambitious. The main problem seemed to be convincing people to display their hidden guns in front of the camera, because carrying weapons in public is illegal in PNG.
After five hours of delays, the ceremony started.
(People talking)
The bush camp filled with more than a hundred people and around 30 men, women and children lined up dressed in a colourful assortment of ceremonial dresses.
There were grass skirts and white face paint on some of the women; some men had headdresses fashioned from bright green leaves and several had long necklaces made of shells and bone.
Six men had homemade rifles.
(Commander issuing parade orders)
Someone suggested the men fire off a round for the benefit of the cameras, but it turned out nobody had any bullets.
I whispered to the go-between, "How are you going to fight the Indonesians without any bullets?"
He just smiled but another man who spoke some English volunteered to get in front to the camera and explain their lack of ammo was exactly why the world should pitch in and send them military equipment.
Time was well and truly up. I was running late for my security check-in with the ABC to confirm all was well.
In fact, none of the security issues that I'd envisaged had been a problem. The only slight moment of concern was when the security guys in the tray of the car started arguing on the trip back. It had something to do with who had chipped in money to buy beer and who was chosen to sit in the back seat, inside the car, once we dropped Danny Kogoya off at his safe house.
(Engine noise)
The trip ended well and the story was on TV and radio a few days later.
SIMON SANTOW: Liam Cochrane reporting there.

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