Papuan Patience Worn Thin
John Mcbeth – Straits Times
German biologist Pieter Helmut and his wife were walking up the beach after swimming near the Papua provincial capital of Jayapura when a bearded gunman suddenly got out of a van and opened fire.
Helmut, 54, had emergency surgery for life-threatening bullet wounds to the stomach and thigh. He was lucky to survive the May 29 attack, unusual even by Papuan standards.
He was among the victims of a spate of random shootings in and around Jayapura in May and June which left six people dead, including a 16-year-old student.
Indonesia’s Papua province was once again in the headlines and back on the Cabinet agenda.
With government hardliners in the ascendency, there is now every sign that youthful Papuan militants, only loosely affiliated to the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), have lost patience with the dialogue process and are taking the fight to urban areas.
“Everything suggests that there is going to be more trouble in Papua unless the government can produce a policy that will have an immediate and visible impact on how ordinary Papuans are treated,” the International Crisis Group warned in a recent report. It said the recent violence has exposed the lack of a coherent government strategy to address the many dimensions of conflict in Papua, with well-meant programs falling victim to security imperatives or rent-seeking by police or soldiers in resource-rich areas.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seems to be playing both sides, telling Papuan leaders in private that he supports talks to resolve Papua’s many problems, and then saying publicly that there is no need for talks at all, as he did in a major July speech.
At the same time, the Unit for the Accelerated Development of Papua and West Papua (UP4B), which was widely seen as laying the groundwork for a prospective dialogue when it was created last November, has now been told to stay away from politics.
UP4B head Bambang Darmono, a retired two-star general who played a crucial role in the 2005 Aceh peace process, told foreign journalists recently that his job was simply to “coordinate and facilitate” government development programs.
Papua’s political leaders consider the territory’s 2001 Special Autonomy Law to be a failure, not necessarily because it doesn’t hit the right notes, but because it was hurriedly enacted without consultation with the Papuans.
Likewise the UP4B. Despite the need for vastly improved governance and an end to endemic corruption, the unit and other central government interventions are regarded as efforts by Jakarta to decentralize.
While Darmono agrees that the security situation “doesn’t look comfortable,” he and other senior officials fail to see the irony in their criticism of international news reports when foreign reporters are banned from Papua and have to rely on often biased accounts from both sides.
The sharp increase in bloodshed has not been confined to Jayapura. At least 16 civilians, including a village headman, and eight soldiers and policemen, have been killed across Papua and neighboring West Papua province over the past three months.
Two weeks after Helmut was wounded, patrolmen shot dead wanted activist Mako Tabuni, a member of the supposedly non-violent West Papua National Committee (KNPB), set up four years ago to campaign for a referendum on Papuan independence.
The KNPB was at the center of a row in early 2010 when Western and Papuan rights groups challenged an International Crisis Group report asserting that the committee was part of a growing “radicalization” of the Papua resistance movement.
Whether “radical” is the appropriate word or not, police claim to have telephone intercepts and forensic evidence showing that Mako, KNPB leader Buchtar Tabuni, Maluk Tabuni and three other suspects were responsible for the Jayapura shooting spree.
Police insist Mako was killed while trying to escape, but such is the level of mutual distrust, they will have a hard job convincing anyone of that. There have been far too many other cases with a similar disregard for Papuan lives.
Tabuni is a common name, but Mako and Buchtar were cousins and the KNPB is believed to have links to Goliat Tabuni, leader of one of the OPM’s most active guerilla groups in the mountainous Puncak Raya region far to the west.
The violence is taking place in a political vacuum, with the Supreme Court hearing Papua governor Barnabas Suebu’s claim that he is entitled to a third term and the Constitutional Court soon to rule on whether only indigenous Papuans can run for public office.
The government supports the view that candidates must be Melanesians. But for all of Papua’s special autonomy status, that would set a troubling precedent, and ignores the fact that non-indigenous people now comprise half of Papua’s population.
Some officials believe separatists are using the long delay in holding local elections to fuel communal tensions and create the impression of rising instability in a troubled territory.
President Yudhoyono bizarrely sought to play down the level of violence to journalists in early June, saying the prolonged low-intensity conflict could not compare with Afghanistan and Syria.
Complaining about what he called “cause and effect,” he referred to a June 6 incident in the highland town of Wamena. Rioting soldiers killed one man and wounded 15 others after a soldier was stabbed to death for running his motorcycle over a boy
Yudhoyono said the OPM wants to provoke an over-reaction to attract global attention, a frank admission that security forces still lacked the discipline and training required in a such a highly charged environment.
Reprinted courtesy of The Straits Times