The appointment of Major General Hotma Marbun to the Military Command for the Kodam-XVII Cenderawasih region comes as Papuans continue to seek a dialogue with the Jakarta Government and the demilitarization of their homeland. Their appeals have been resisted by a military that persists in describing Papuans seeking their rights as "separatists" and justifies attacks on peaceful demonstrators as necessary to defending Indonesia's territorial integrity.
The naming of any Kopassus officer in command of the region raises obvious human rights concerns. In addition, Major General Marbun has a personal record that underscores these concerns. As pointed out by the respected UK human rights organization Tapol, Marbun was involved in operations in Indonesia-occupied East Timor in 1983 and 1986, a particularly bloody period during the occupation. He also participated in military operations in West Papua in 1982 and 1994.
General Marbun takes command at a time of growing security force abuse in the region, as recently documented by Human Rights Watch. Indonesian human rights organizations including the Papuan branch of the Indonesian government's official Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham) recently voiced public support for the withdrawal of military forces from West Papua to improve prospects for dialogue.
For decades, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus notwithstanding its widely acknowledged abuses and criminal activity. Despite the demonstrated failure of international assistance to improve its behavior, t he Obama administration is reportedly considering resuming such assistance, terminated under Congressional pressure more than a decade ago.
Papuans are increasingly marginalized in their homeland, as tensions grow between Papuans and migrants, and Papuan demands for an internationally mediated dialogue with Jakarta and for the demilitarization of West Papua go unanswered In this context, the appointment of a commander from the Indonesian military's hard line Kopassus is profoundly disturbing.