JAKARTA (Reuters) - Members of Indonesia's elite military special forces, Kopassus, have acted with legal impunity in Papua to detain, torture and beat up ordinary citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Thursday.
The New York-based rights watchdog urged the Indonesian government to investigate alleged abuses, and to discipline or prosecute offenders and their commanding officers.
It also called on countries such as the United States, Australia and Britain to cut training ties with Kopassus until the matter had been investigated.
"The long history of political tensions and abuses by the Indonesian security forces in Papua have created a climate of fear in the province," it said, adding "violence thrives when a culture of impunity persists in the heart of what is supposed to be one of Indonesia's best trained fighting units."
Resource-rich Papua on the western half of New Guinea island is one of Indonesia's most politically sensitive regions.
Indonesia has maintained a heavy military presence in Papua in an attempt to crush a decades-long secessionist movement, and there have been frequent reports of abuses by security forces over the years.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said he could not respond to the allegations until he had read the report.
Papua military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Soesilo also said that he was not aware of the allegations.
Kopassus, which has been accused of rights abuses in secessionist hot spots such as Aceh, Papua and East Timor in the past, is currently headed by Major-General Pramono Edhie Wibowo, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's brother-in-law.
It was previously headed by Prabowo Subianto, a former general who is now former President Megawati Sukarnoputri's running mate in the July 8 presidential election.
The rights group alleged that plain-clothed Kopassus troops picked Papuans up off the street or from their homes in Merauke, a city in the easternmost part of Papua, even though they were not involved in the secessionist movement.
The report quoted testimony from several Papuans who said they had been beaten and forced to eat very hot raw chillies when their mouths were bleeding, causing severe pain.
Australia stopped conducting joint training exercises with Kopassus after accusations of abuses in East Timor in 1999, but has since resumed them, citing a desire to cooperate in counter-terrorism.
According to Human Rights Watch, Britain plans a training session with Kopassus this year.
To read the HRW report, click here: here