Oppression still rife in West Papua PDF Afdrukken E-mailadres
Geschreven door Ronald May   
dinsdag 24 maart 2009 20:43

Date: March 24 2009

Ronald May




A local leader's return is an opportunity for talks with Indonesia.

RECENT reports from Indonesia's West Papua of a raid on a military post by separatist fighters, and the news that a former West Papuan leader, Nicolaas Jouwe, has returned to Indonesia calling for a new dialogue on West Papua's political status, again draw attention to the long-running grievances of the Melanesian population.


West Papua — previously Dutch New Guinea — was formally, but controversially, integrated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1969, after several years under an Indonesian-dominated UN temporary administration. Rather than the intended popular plebiscite on West Papua's future status, the Indonesian government hand-selected some 1000 Papuan delegates to vote on the outcome, under the gaze of an ineffective UN special observer, and made it clear that any decision other than incorporation into the Republic would not be countenanced. When the process was critically reported, few UN members raised objection.

Since then, West Papua (officially known as Irian Jaya by Indonesia), has been subjected to a heavy Indonesian military presence and severe political repression. Over the years many West Papuan nationalists have been killed in incidents involving the raising of the West Papuan Morning Star flag. There has also been substantial immigration to the province, both through the government-sponsored transmigration program and spontaneous migration from other parts of Indonesia. Non-Melanesians now dominate commerce in even the smaller towns, and Melanesians complain that they are inadequately represented in the provincial administration.

The fact that the majority of inmigrants are Muslim, and that the West Papuan population is primarily Christian, adds another element to social tension. A 2008 report by the International Crisis Group noted that conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed, and there is little evidence to suggest that they are.

West Papua hosts one of the world's largest gold and copper mines at Freeport, but the local Amungme population have received little compensation, in terms of money, services or jobs, for the loss of their land and the pollution associated with the mine. Indonesian soldiers provide part of the security at the American-owned mine.

Unregulated forestry operations, in which the Indonesian military has been heavily involved, are another source of local grievance. The area is one of the richest parts of Indonesia; but most of the Melanesian Papuan population do not share in this wealth.

The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) emerged in the 1960s to press West Papuan demands for separate status. It has maintained a somewhat sporadic military campaign against the Indonesian Government, but has received little support, diplomatically or in terms of funds and weapons. The OPM has split into several factions and most of its leaders have either been killed or — like Jouwe — left for overseas.

Following the demise of former Indonesian president Suharto, and under the brief presidency of Habibie, there were attempts to open negotiations with the West Papuan nationalists. It was agreed to rename the province Papua, and to allow the Morning Star flag to be raised (under certain, increasingly restrictive, conditions). A Papuan Praesidium was created to begin a dialogue with the national government, and the province (along with Aceh) was granted Special Autonomy.

After Habibie, however, most of these concessions were withdrawn, the province was divided into two (Papua and West Irian Jaya), the critical Special Autonomy provisions were never implemented, the Praesidium was compromised and undermined, and military repression again escalated. Not surprisingly a number of West Papuans returned to the jungle to resume their guerilla campaign.

There has been no significant indication that President Yudhoyono is about to change policy on West Papua. The Government's immediate response to the recent OPM clashes with the military has been to increase troop numbers and offer a reward for the capture of the OPM military chief, Goliat Tabuni.

Reportedly, Jouwe's return after 40 years in the Netherlands was sponsored by the Indonesian Government, and there were promises of a "new autonomy agreement".

But it is hard to see what Jouwe's return has to offer. Reports suggest that Jouwe is still talking about West Papua as a "separate nation", and in any case it is not clear that he has credibility with a younger generation of West Papuans, who may well see his presence as being stage-managed to coincide with national elections.

And given that successive Indonesian governments have reneged on the promise of Special Autonomy, most educated Melanesians are highly cynical about any proposals for a new agreement.

Sadly, not many countries, Australia included, give much of a damn for the plight of the Melanesian population and do not want to risk offending Indonesia by asking why it was that the promising start to reconciliation made by president Habibie was allowed to collapse and give way to repression. Jouwe's return visit seems unlikely to change things, but perhaps it may provide an opportunity to have another look at the prospects for a renewed dialogue.

Ronald May is emeritus fellow at the Australian National University.