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Worries in West Papua: Will Apache Attack Helicopters Sold to Indonesia Destroy Calls for Independence?

The pending sale is cause for concern for the people of West Papua, a region targeted by Indonesia for its rich resources and because of concerns over national unity.

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William Hartung, director of the Arms Resource Center at the World Policy Institute, said the Apache sale should be stopped. "Given the Indonesian government's record of attacks on civilians in West Papua, there is a significant possibility that the helicopters would be used for this purpose," Hartung wrote in an email. "Selling offensive weapons to a country that may use them in systematic human rights abuses violates the spirit of U.S. law. More importantly, it is immoral. It is unacceptable for a democracy to act in this fashion."

Others questioned Indonesia's need for Apache helicopters. "I don't know why Indonesia really needs these things," said Jeff Abramson, a director at Control Arms. Pearson suggested one reason Indonesia might want them was because its neighbors Singapore and Malaysia had them. But those countries aren't known for the types of abuses Indonesia is, she said. "Why Apaches?" she asked. "There is a whole lot of other military assistance the US could give them. Australia is providing Hercules [transport] aircraft, for example."

The Apache's night vision capacity would be of particular use in sweep operations, said Edmund McWilliams, an American diplomat and previous US ambassador to Tajikistan who now works with ETAN. Chesterfield agreed. "The Apaches are designed for night operations and deep penetration of forest areas through remote sensing and are designed to find human beings in hostile environments - fast," he wrote. "They are able to go into an area that traditional ground troops, even special forces - would have a hard time getting to."

The TNI now commands eight Russian-built Hind attack helicopters, but in nearly every respect the Apaches are much more powerful machines, Chesterfield said. "They more manoeuvrable than Hinds, can turn on smaller footprints, are quieter and are equipped with less rigid cannon which can pivot in any direction. They can deliver a wide variety of munitions, much wider than the Hind," he wrote, adding: "The Apaches would be a whole new ballgame."

Bad Memories

During the NATO summit in May, anti-war demonstrators marched on Chicago-based Boeing's corporate headquarters. Calling Boeing a "war machine that produces war machines," the crowd held a "die-in" outside its office, then took the protest to Obama's campaign headquarters.

In response, Boeing spokesman John Dern said the company takes pride in its work. "We wish and hope that people understand what we do," Dern told CBS News. "We understand that they are upset with us for whatever reason. Having said that, to the extent that we have a role in protecting our troops - protecting the people who are protecting all of us - that's something we're proud of and our employees are proud of."

In a recent issue of Boeing Frontiers, the company's monthly magazine, a worker at Boeing's Mesa site, where Apaches are produced, expressed a similar sentiment. "Just to hear those things fly above ... It gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride to know you had a hand in something that was worthwhile," said Ramon Pena Jr., an electrical engineer and mechanical assembler who has spent 26 years working on the Apache.

Asked how he felt about the Apaches, the Papuan exile and independence activist Benny Wenda also recalled military aircraft flying overhead, although in a starkly different light. In 1977, when Wenda was a small child, the Indonesian armed forces undertook aerial bombing raids over the central highlands and most of his family was killed.

Things haven't changed much, he said.

"I'm worried Indonesia will misuse [the Apaches]," he said by phone from Britain. "They are killing their own people. There is no threat. Who do they want to invade? Papua New Guinea? Australia? They are paranoid in this situation. I hope they don't send this."

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