Dec 07, 2023 Last Updated 1:42 AM, Dec 7, 2023

Logging, soldiers and sex

Published: Jul 24, 2007

Military business brings many problems to Papua

Sinta Ratna Dewi and Bustar Maitar

Papua has long been treated like an Indonesian colony rather than a fully-fledged part of the Indonesian state. Natural resources are extracted while the region remains underdeveloped. The military (including the police) are key actors in resource-based industries in Papua, as well as in the entertainment businesses which help those industries run smoothly. These businesses create all sorts of difficulties for Papuans.

Logging Papua

Logging is one of the most lucrative industries in Papua, and logging companies hold rights to about one third of all Papuan forests. The most desired wood in Papua is merbau (intsia bijuga). Local communities in Papua receive around US$ 10 per cubic metre for the merbau wood. Sold in China or Malaysia, the same amount can fetch US$ 700. Local communities also bear all the environmental and social costs of logging.

No logging business in Papua is free from the hand of the military. Many logging companies are either affiliated with the military or directly owned by military companies, or by high ranking officers. For example, in 2003 the vice commander of the military police in Sorong was found to be in business with the Malaysian logging giant PT Rimbunan Hijau Jaya. On the ground, low ranking soldiers have methods of making money unofficially. Soldiers are officially stationed as security forces at every logging camp. Logging companies also pay bribes to soldiers in the field to keep business running smoothly.

There are two types of logging permits available in Papua. HPH (Business Forest Rights) permits must come from the Minister of Forestry in Jakarta. KOPERMAS (Participative Community Cooperative) permits can be issued by local government. Both of these forms of legal logging are ripe for exploitation. Logging becomes illegal when any of the regulations are not followed, from the permit process through to marketing. Examples include logging without a permit, logging outside the area granted in the permit, logging over the allocated quota, logging without the required level of replanting, transporting logs without the required transport permits, and changing the destination of transported logs.

With the military on side, loggers can violate the conditions of their permits with impunity. Replanting is a good example. Replanting rarely occurs at the level required by the permits, which is why no HPH areas are ready for re-use after 25 years. Other forms of illegal logging are also rampant. Many cases are left unreported since they occur in the forest, and bribes are paid to keep the offences secret.

Entertainment industries

The military are also involved in ‘entertainment’ industries such as prostitution, alcohol, and gambling, either by owning the operations directly or providing security. These industries are vital to the smooth operation of logging and other forms of resource extraction in Papua. These businesses are particularly well-represented in towns like Jayapura, Merauke, Timika, Manokwari and Sorong, where employees transit on their way to logging camps and mines.

The entertainment industries lead to a host of problems for Papuans. They effectively drain wages from the local communities, since a large portion of workers’ earnings are spent on alcohol and prostitution. In some areas, sex is substituted directly for income. For example, trade in eaglewood (now under threat of extinction) is thriving in the Asmat and Mappi districts. At the collection sites in the forest, the collectors can trade their eaglewood (valuable for its resin) directly for sexual services provided by prostitutes.

The alcohol and sex industries contribute to the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS and violence against women in Papua. HIV infection is high in areas of natural resource extraction such as Merauke, Timika and Sorong. In the Asmat district, murder and domestic violence against women has increased drastically since alcohol was brought to the area in 1988, and again in 1998 when the eaglewood industry began to boom in the region. Since 2002 there have been 27 new HIV/AIDS cases in the Assue sub-district, the location of the eaglewood industry.

Manufacturing insecurity

Military entrepreneurs are making fortunes in Papua, and do not want to leave. An environment of fear and instability must be maintained in Papua to justify the presence of the security forces. Some say the military actively prevents peace. As long as soldiers continue to be able to profit from Papua’s natural resources, both the environment and the people of Papua will continue to be exploited.

Sinta Ratna Dewi ( is the health and human rights program manager at PIKUL in Kupang, West Nusa Tenggara.Bustar Maitar ( is the director of PERDU, a natural resources management and community development program, in Manokwari, Papua.

Inside Indonesia 82: Apr-Jun 2005

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