By Marc Bagas
The independence struggle of West Papua has been bitterly contested for many decades. It has seen many different phases, levels of international involvement, and seemingly endless political persecution. However, one thing that it has not seen is foreign fighters. That is, until a man by the name of Gerard Michael Little came around.
For context, the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka), also known as the Free Papua Movement, is an umbrella term for the armed movement that seeks West Papuan independence from Indonesia. This movement was founded in 1965 in the West Papua region, which is currently governed by Indonesia as the provinces of Papua and West Papua (also formerly known as Irian Jaya and West Irian).
The movement primarily consists of three elements: disparate groups of armed units, each with limited territorial control with no single commander; several groups in the territory that conduct demonstrations and protests; and a small group of leaders based abroad that raise awareness of issues in the territory whilst striving for international support for independence. The movement is incredibly controversial in Indonesia, and agitating or advocating for independence for the province have incurred charges of treason in many cases.
Now, on to the profile.
Gerard Michael Little is a 45 year-old disability pensioner from Tynong North, in Victoria State, Australia. He lived on a pension because of a shoulder injury, which mysteriously did not prevent him from deciding to become a mercenary. He identified as a member of the Wathaurong People (an Aboriginal-Australian indigenous people) and does not accept Australian sovereignty.
Little is a long time supporter of OPM, and had a dream to arm and lead the OPM against the Indonesian government. He even launched a Facebook page espousing the cause of West Papuan independence. He had connections with many West Papua independence activists, and because of his internet activism, he was given the honorary rank of colonel by the OPM. He had no military experience, but attended paramilitary training provided by a training company by the name of the International Law Enforcement Training Agency (ILETA) in the Crimea region of Ukraine in September of 2012. Little can be seen in many photos from his training course dressed in military fatigues, receiving weapons training, learning hand to hand combat, etc.
Little made many connections in Crimea. He traveled there with Anton Pahoff, a young man from the suburbs of South Eastern Melbourne who traveled to Ukraine with Little to train with ILETA. Little was trained in part by James Shortt, also known as “The Baron of Castleshort”, who served as the director-general of ILETA. Shortt is quite infamous for his almost universally recognized status as being a fake SAS veteran, and is frequently lambasted with (very clearly true) accusations of having delusions of grandeur. Shortt in fact, was the man who gave certificates to Little and Pahoff after their training. Little would, at some point during this training process, inform Shortt of his desire to offer training to military and law enforcement agencies in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Pahoff (left) in a deer costume at ILETA training, and Shortt, wearing his infamous and quite out of place Scottish garb.
After his training at ILETA, Little planned his journey to West Papua. His plan was to fly to Papua New Guinea, which would serve as a stepping stone to reach his final destination of West Papua. This plan did not exactly start off as smoothly as he likely suspected, as he was promptly arrested by Australian authorities at the Brisbane International Airport before he could manage to board a flight to Papua New Guinea. After his arrest, the Australian Federal Police executed eight search warrants on properties related to Little. Properties in Caulfield, East Bentleigh, Tynong North and Toowoomba, in Queensland, were raided, including Little’s home, and those of his father and daughter. His home in Tynong North was in disarray. Items seized by the police included hard drives, documents, and photographs, including pictures of him dressed in military uniform.
In 2013, Gerard Michael Little was found guilty and has charged with foreign incursion offences (as it is illegal to participate in foreign conflict as a civilian in Australia) by the Brisbane court and sentenced to jail for 7 months. So far, he’s the only foreigner who has attempted to fight with the OPM. While his story didn’t end in West Papua, it represents a fairly anomalous occurrence in the conflict. Will others try to follow Little’s path? Only time will tell.