The Papua Problem: Seeds of Disintegration
The summit conference of International Lawyers for West Papua held earlier this month in Oxford, England, should not be regarded by Indonesia as merely a focus group discussion.
The recent spate of violence in Indonesia’s easternmost region should also not be considered a relatively inconsequential security disturbance that can easily be dealt with via conventional military operations.
Both contain seeds of disintegration, which, if allowed to grow, might have the potential to become an almost unstoppable force that could ultimately lead to the secession of the resource-rich province from the Republic of Indonesia.
Papuans are all too keenly aware that the scent of disintegration is becoming increasingly detectable as politicians continue to implement policies that have the effect of discriminating against them, compared with people from other regions, in the fields of social welfare, education and health.
ILWP may be small and not very well-known. The group’s leader, Benny Wenda, may be a nobody now, but so were East Timorese men Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta, who were belittled by Indonesia and hunted down by the Indonesian Military under late Armed Forces (ABRI) commander Gen. Benny Moerdani for their leadership of the separatist movement.
They put up a struggle, campaigning for independence to escape what they saw as the stifling embrace of Indonesia, and succeeded. They are now prime minister and president, respectively, of the independent state of East Timor.
Ignoring the Papuan pro-independence movements’ demands and ignoring the importance of seeking a comprehensive solution through dialogue will produce a backlash on Indonesia. The movements will eventually attract more international attention, sympathy and funding. If Indonesia is caught off-guard and remains unaware of the consequences, Papuans could ultimately seek a referendum on secession. Indonesia would find that intolerable if it wished to preserve unity.
Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said discussion of separatism is not a threat to Indonesia’s unity and that threats of secession at the moment are at a minimum. He has added that 80 percent of Papua’s total income, about Rp 28 trillion ($3.3 billion), is allocated for expenditure on Papuans.
However, despite these rosy government claims, Papuans who dream of nurturing and preserving the land of their ancestors still perceive see their land as being exploited.
They say little attention is paid by the central government to welfare needs. In Puncak Jaya regency, Regent Lukas Enembe claims 90 percent of his people are poor.
The perceived failure of Indonesia to provide welfare to Papuans, and repressive measures captured on video of a Papuan being tortured by the Indonesian military, only strengthen the pro-independence movement’s sense of collective despair and demands for a referendum. Not all Papuans feel the comfort and security that the Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia (unity within the archipelago) is supposed to provide.
Given the lessons of East Timor and the ongoing transformation in Southern Sudan, calls for a referendum need to be taken seriously. Pro-independence movements can easily cite human rights and democracy violations as tools or pretexts to support their demands. Ironically, Indonesia supported a referendum for Southern Sudan but seems to have forgotten that it was a referendum that paved the way for the separation of East Timor from Indonesia.
Another issue to watch out for is covert foreign meddling in Indonesia’s internal affairs. Currently, Indonesia’s intelligence is too weak and prone to foreign infiltration. Despite denials from the Indonesian government, most Indonesian analysts see big foreign powers as having interests in resource-rich Papua.
The Australian press recently mentioned key figures in the Papuan independence movement and listed its international sympathizers, including US Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, British Labour MP Andrew Smith, ex-Papua New Guinea leader Michael Somare and other politicians, academics, journalists, aid workers and religious leaders.
The leaders of the Papuan People’s Representative Council (DPRP) have also called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to withdraw all troops and police from the Timika mining area of US-owned Freeport McMoRan, saying their presence has failed to provide peace, security and order. Instead, violence has increased with many more people shot dead.
The council’s stance is that if the state is incapable of providing security, given the presence of Freeport since 1967, then the security apparatus there should be withdrawn.
The Amungme and Kamoro local tribes have been victims of the failure to provide adequate security. Ironically, the security apparatus there has been supported by both the state and the US mining giant, yet with little appreciable security improvement over the years.
The council has called on both the Indonesian and US governments to sit down together and draw up a comprehensive solution on security matters at Freeport because hundreds of Papuans have been killed since the 1960s.
The gist of its message is that the Indonesian authorities at the highest levels — including the president, armed forces commander and national police chief — must pay attention to Papua, the last frontier, which Indonesia just cannot afford to lose.