This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Britain is the Kimberley Quinn of despots

The war on drugs was a difficult war to fight, as essentially it was a war on plants. Notoriously hard to suppress and tricky to negotiate with, the plants have won. Fortunately, they have been unable to articulate their victory, saving numerous governments from embarrassment. Now we have the "war on terror". Again, difficult to fight conventionally, as "terror" is a concept, an emotion and a tactic: we might as well declare war on the variable speed of light, uncertainty and approaching people from behind. I just don't think George W Bush has understood the nature of terrorism. When asked recently how he felt about the increase of suicide bombings in Iraq, he replied: "Bring it on." Which is surely the worst way to react: the last thing you want to shout at people prepared to blow themselves up is, "Oi, jihadi, you're all mouth! You ain't got the bottle."

Whatever the semantics and propaganda of the "war on terror" one thing is reassuringly familiar - the west's choice of strange bedfellows. Our government's ability to jump into the sack with human rights abusers and undemocratic states that are "onside" or "strategically important" has not been more pronounced since . . . well, since we sold arms to Saddam Hussein. And, despite the odd murmur about human rights, Britain remains the Kimberley Quinn of torturers and despots.

Jack Straw might condemn Uzbekistan as hundreds are murdered, but, true to form, Britain armed that country. The Uzbek security services killed at least one opponent by boiling him alive, and I wouldn't be shocked if Britain sold them the kettles, too - all the while claiming that "if we didn't do it Tefal would".

Less reported, but no less disturbing, are the actions of Indonesia in West Papua. Indonesia is another ally in the "war on terror" and therefore "onside". Which, if previous form is anything to go by, means Britain sells it weapons, which will be used against a bunch of people on whose behalf some of us will be screaming at the UN, asking it to intervene, at some point in the future.

Here is the briefest history of West Papua. The Dutch colonial masters leave. Shortly afterwards, in 1961, West Papua declares the first moves to independence. It is promptly invaded by Indonesia. In 1969 a referendum on independence takes place, not with the territory's million or so inhabitants voting in free and fair elections, but with 1,022 Papuans, hand-picked by Indonesia, being forced to vote at gunpoint. I'll leave you to guess the result. The Free Papua Movement, a guerrilla group armed literally with bows and arrows, takes on the Indonesian military, which is supplied with non-wood and non-feather-based arms from the UK and US.

Decades pass, thousands die, West Papua is ignored by the G8, the EU, the international community - everyone except multinationals, which are extremely supportive of Indonesia's right to license exploitation of West Papua's mineral resources.

If West Papua's right to democracy and self-determination hasn't worried the world so far, it should do now. Because Indonesia is turning it into the next East Timor, and will do so with the help of a known Islamist terror group - Laskar Jihad. "What is Laskar Jihad and what does it do?" you may ask. Well, the clue is in the name.

Unsurprisingly for a militia with the word "jihad" in its title, it waged, from 2000, a genocidal holy war against Christians in Indonesia's Molucca Islands. Thousands of people died. It did so with the protection and assistance of the Indonesian military.

Although Laskar Jihad officially disbanded after the Bali bomb in 2002, reports have been coming in from human rights groups that it has been running training camps in West Papua since 2003.

The most compelling tales were broadcast this year in Australia on the current affairs show Dateline, on which the Reverend Socrates Sofyan Yoman, president of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of West Papua, claimed jihadists were entering the region en masse. The programme also obtained testimony from a Papuan human rights activist who claimed to have infiltrated and trained with Laskar Jihad. He described its activities as "intimidating and killing Papuans who were involved in the Papua independence movement". All of this appears to be with the blessing of Indonesia's military. Rev Yoman says: "Wherever there are Indonesian soldiers, the militia and jihadists are there too. They are inseparable."

If jihadist training camps were found in an African state there would be uproar. At the very least, the US would have bombed a harmless pharmaceutical factory. This is where the "war on terror", in its hypocrisy, fails. Not only does the UK continue to arm Indonesia, but it can't even condemn the genocidal collaboration of jihadists and the Indonesian government as they crush a democratic independence movement of people armed just with bows and arrows.


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