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Analysis: No peace for West Papua without ‘genuine’ talks on future

Fr Neles Tebay

Fr Neles Tebay ... outlining a plan to end the bloodshed. Photo: Relindonesia

Pacific Scoop:
Analysis – By Fr Neles Tebay in Jayapura

 Violence is escalating in the Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua. The whole month of October has been characterised by a series of violent events.

Blood began to be shed in Timika, the nearest town to the US gold and copper mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia on October 10, when a company worker, Petrus Ayemiseba, was shot dead as police fired warning shots to prevent protesting workers from entering a terminal at the company’s site.

On October 19, police and troops forcefully dispersed participants of the third Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura after the latter declared the formation of an independent state and hoisted the outlawed Morning Star flag.

The police reportedly fired warning shots to break up the assembly, prompting numerous participants to flee into the hills. The day after at least three bodies were found near the area where the congress was held.

At about the same time, unidentified gunmen killed three people within the Freeport compound.

The violence did not stop after the congress was dissolved. Mulia police chief Adj. Comr. Dominggus Oktavianus Awes was shot dead by two unidentified men as he was monitoring the airport in the capital of the Puncak Jaya regency.

The police have accused Papuan rebels of perpetrating the murder, which appeared to be confirmed by a letter sent by rebel leader Puron Wonda to Regent Lukas Enembe, claiming responsibility for the killing.

Stab wounds
On October 25 in Jayapura town, a civilian suffered stab wounds after he was attacked by three masked men and one day later another Papuan was found dead in Wamena, also in Jayapura, possibly as a result of violence.

An in-depth analysis is needed to examine whether these acts of violence are connected or separate incidents. In most of the cases, the perpetrators have remained unidentified.

Except for the labour protest in Timika, we do not know the motives and objectives of the acts of violence.

However, one thing that is sure is that the bloodshed indicates long-standing, fundamental problems that have remained unresolved in Papua.

In order to identify and settle these deep-seated problems and prevent acts of violence from recurring, a series of genuine talks between the central government and indigenous Papuans are urgently needed.

Three factors
The proposed peace talks and participants of the dialogue need to be prepared. For the talks to materialise, three things should be taken into consideration.

First, the current violence must end to provide a favorable climate for dialogue.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should order the military and police to exercise restraint and refrain from committing violence, so should the Papuan rebels. Both parties should realise that violence never resolved any problem.

Indeed, the motives and objectives of the violence should be identified through talks.

Meanwhile, the police could conduct an investigation into the acts of violence and publicly announce the perpetrators or the parties responsible for the killings, including those by the security forces.

Second, all parties should recognise that the violence and calls for independence in Papua have increased in the 10 years after implementation of the law on special autonomy for Papua. This being so there needs to be an examination of what has gone wrong with the enforcement of the law, which has seen more than Rp 28 trillion (US$3.14 billion) poured in to the province?

All the fundamental issues behind the Papuan’s demand for independence are already accommodated in the autonomy law. Therefore, had the autonomy law been fully and consistently implemented by both the central and local governments, then the fundamental problems should have been tackled.

Government failure
The Papuans feel disappointed with the government’s failure to implement the law, which was evident in the raising of the separatist flag and the formation of a transitional government during the third Papuan Congress. Therefore, the Papuans’ expression of discontent with the government cannot be considered treason.

Both the central and local governments are parties responsible for the public dissatisfaction. Instead of charging the Papuans with treason, the government should review implementation of the special autonomy law.

The government should now initiate a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation of the law. Such an evaluation will be useful to identify obstacles to the enforcement of the law and provide input to the government for improvement.

The evaluation will serve as a good start for trust building between the government and the Papuan people.

Third, President Yudhoyono should appoint a special envoy to handle the Papua conflict. As the envoy will be responsible for initiating political communication with all Papuan leading figures in Papua, Jakarta and abroad, the figure should be carefully selected so as not to meet opposition from the Papuans.

The President has named Lt. Gen. (ret) Bambang Darmono, former Aceh military commander, as head of the special unit for Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua.

Bambang will face an uphill communication struggle in conveying the message to the Papuans that the government is committed to settle the Papua conflict through peace talks. Once trust is built between the two parties, the dialogue will materialise and enable the government and Papuans to jointly establish a path to peace and prosperity in the province.

Dr Neles Tebay, a Catholic priest, teaches at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, Papua. This article was first published in the Jakarta Post.