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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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Executive Summary

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

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.
 

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013