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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Asia > South East Asia > Indonesia > Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua

Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua

Asia Briefing N°126 22 Aug 2011

OVERVIEW

The conflict in Indonesian Papua continues to defy solution, but some new ideas are on the table. A spike in violence in July and August 2011 underscores the urgency of exploring them. The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should move quickly to set up a long-delayed new Papua unit with a mandate that includes political issues. That unit should look at a set of political, social, economic, legal and security indicators produced in July by a Papua Peace Conference that could become a framework for more enlightened policies. Taken together, they represent a vision of what a peaceful Papua would look like. The conference participants who drafted them, however, were almost all from Papuan civil society. For any real change to take place, there needs to be buy-in not just from Jakarta but from the increasingly large constituency of Papuan elected officials who have influence and resources at a local level.

The aspirations voiced during the conference contrast sharply with the reality of escalating conflict in the highland district of Puncak Jaya, a remote region wracked by insurgency, corruption and some of the worst poverty in Indonesia. It is home to one of the most active units of the pro-independence National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional, TPN) of the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM). A complex set of factors feeds the insurgency, including a sense of historical injustice, harsh actions by security forces, and competition and factionalism, sometimes clan-based, among the fighters themselves. Violence there helps fuel local political activism and an international solidarity movement, which in turn fuels antipathy in Jakarta to any steps toward conflict resolution that involve discussion of political grievances. It also leads to restrictions on access by foreign humanitarian and development organisations.

The conference on 5-7 July was meant to break that pattern. The fruit of two years of behind-the-scenes labour by a group called the Papua Peace Network, it was to be an exercise in formulating issues that could then be discussed with the government in Jakarta in a way that some thought might keep the “M” word – merdeka (independence) – at bay. It did not work out quite as the organisers had planned. Top government officials offered informal “constructive communication”, without specifying what they had in mind; activists responded with a demand for a much more formal dialogue, with the Indonesian government sitting across the table from Papuan pro-independence negotiators, mediated by a neutral international third party. Instead of building bridges, the conference underscored the depth of the gulf in perceptions between Jakarta-based officials and Papuan civil society about the nature of the conflict.

The government of President Yudhoyono, on Papua as on everything else, has been glacially slow to develop a policy that would be different from the default response of throwing cash at the problem and hoping it will go away. In mid-2010 the idea emerged of a special unit on Papua to be based in the vice-president’s office called the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (Unit Percepatan Pembangunan di Papua dan Papua Barat, UP4B). Initially conceived as an agency to implement “quick win” development projects, it seemed by early 2011 to be gaining a wider mandate that could also allow it to address more sensitive issues related to land, conflict and human rights. A draft decree setting up UP4B has been on the Cabinet Secretary’s desk, however, since May and there is no indication when it will be sent to the president for signing. Without the new unit, the chance of any positive change in policy is much diminished, allowing developments in Puncak Jaya to stand as a symbol for activists inside and outside Indonesia of everything that is wrong in Papua.

Jakarta/Brussels, 22 August 2011

 
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