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Briefing 133 / Asia

Indonesia: Cautious Calm in Ambon

Five months after an outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence in Ambon, the city is outwardly calm and bustling, but many issues remain unresolved.

I. Overview

Months after an outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence in Ambon, the city seems quiet. Local authorities learned some lessons from the clashes on 11 September 2011, sparked by the death of a Muslim motorcycle taxi (ojek) driver in a Christian area. Security forces, for example, have been quicker to arrive on the scene in fights that break out along religious lines. While not all those displaced have returned home, some innovative efforts have been initiated to use reconstruction to foster reconciliation. The government is much more conscious of the need to work with the telephone company to get mass text messages out when trouble occurs. Many issues remain unresolved, however, including physical segregation and mutual distrust between Christian and Muslim communities, inadequate police capacity and lack of transparency in investigations into high-profile incidents. Ambon is hosting a national Quran reading contest (Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran, MTQ) in mid-June, and local authorities see it as an opportunity to showcase the city as a model of harmonious relations and a desirable place to invest. Christian and Muslim leaders alike want the contest to succeed as a matter of local pride, and its starting date has become an informal deadline by which all physical reminders of the September violence are to be removed.

Another eruption of violence in mid-December, this time triggered by the unexplained death of a Christian public transport driver, was evidence of ongoing tensions. The city remains segregated, mutual suspicions run high and violence frequently flares from the most trivial of causes. Basic flaws in policing have not been fixed, and the absence of any serious investigations into high-profile incidents keeps the communities polarised and gives rise to conspiracy theories. When investigations do take place, as happened after the death of the motorcycle driver that triggered the September violence, the results are not made public, leading to allegations of cover-ups. Radical elements are active in Ambon, and their tendentious websites suggest a deliberate effort to fan communal flames.

Everyone interviewed could point to possible flashpoints ahead: elections for Central Maluku district head on 27 March 2012; the anniversary of the defunct independence movement, Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS) on 25 April; and the MTQ from 9 to 19 June. But as Ambon’s bishop said in an interview in January, “I’m not worried about the big days. The danger is on the ordinary days when no one’s paying attention”.

Jakarta/Brussels, 13 February 2012

Report 232 / Asia

Indonesia: Dynamics of Violence in Papua

The only measure likely to halt violence in Indonesia’s Papua province in the short term is a major overhaul of security policy.

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I. Overview

A spate of violence in Papua in May and June 2012 exposed the lack of a coherent government strategy to address this multidimensional conflict. Shootings of non-Papuans in the provincial capital Jayapura in June, likely involving pro-independence militants, were followed by the death of one of those militants at police hands, highlighting the political dimension of the problem. In Wamena, a rampage by soldiers after the death of a comrade shows the depth of distrust between local communities and the army, and the absence of mechanisms to deal with crises. The shooting of five Papuans by newly arrived members of a paramilitary police unit (Brigade Mobile, Brimob) in a remote gold-mining area of Paniai highlights the violence linked to Papua’s vast resource wealth and rent-seeking by the security apparatus with little oversight from Jakarta. While these events are still under investigation, they signal that unless the Yudhoyono government can address these very different aspects of the conflict, things may get worse. An overhaul of security policy would help.

Two factors are driving much of the violence: a wide range of Papuan grievances toward the Indonesian state and a security policy that seems to run directly counter to the government’s professed desire to build trust, accelerate development and ensure that a 2001 special autonomy law for Papua yields concrete benefits. To date the law has failed to produce either improvement in the lives of most Papuans or better relations with the central government. Its substance has been frequently undercut by Jakarta, although provincial lawmakers also bear responsibility for failing to enact key implementing regulations. One of the last measures to prompt accusations in Papua of Jakarta’s bad faith was the 2011 division into two of the Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP), an institution set up under the law to safeguard Papuan values and culture that was supposed to be a single body, covering all of Papua. In many ways the MRP was the keystone of special autonomy but it has been plagued by problems since its much-delayed establishment; the division, with Jakarta’s active endorsement, has further reduced its effectiveness.

These problems would be hard enough to manage if Papua had functioning political institutions, but it does not. An ineffectual caretaker governor appointed in July 2011 has left the Papuan provincial government in limbo. Meanwhile, the organisation of a new election has been stymied by a provincial legislature that has focused most of its energy on blocking the former governor from running and vying in national courts with the local election commission for control over parts of the electoral process. The picture is just as grim at district level. This leaves the central government without an engaged partner in Papua, and Papuans without a formal channel for conveying concerns to Jakarta.

The role of a new policy unit – the Unit for Accelerated Development in Papua and West Papua, known by its Indonesian abbreviation of UP4B – established in September 2011, increasingly appears limited to economic affairs, where it will struggle to show visible progress in the short term. Hopes that it might play a behind-the-scenes political role in fostering dialogue on Papuan grievances are fading, as it becomes increasingly clear that dialogue means different things to different people. Efforts to hammer out some consensus on terms and objectives have been set back by the violence, as the government is reluctant to take any steps that might be perceived as making concessions under pressure.

The challenge for the government is to find a short-term strategy that can reduce violence while continuing to work out a policy that will bring long-term social, economic and political benefits and address longstanding grievances. That strategy must involve clear and visible changes in the administration, control and accountability of both the police and military. The security apparatus is not the only problem, nor are police and soldiers always the perpetrators of violence; many have been victims as well. But they have come to symbolise everything that has gone wrong with Jakarta’s handling of the Papuan conflict. It therefore follows that a change in security policy is the best hope for a “quick win” that can transform the political dynamics and halt the slide toward further violence.

Jakarta/Brussels, 9 August 2012