WEST PAPUA'S OPINION MAKERS

admin's picture

By Dr. Gerry van Klinken

JAKARTA, Indonesia (January 3, 2000 – Inside Indonesia/Kabar Irian) When the western press thinks of nationalist resistance in Irian Jaya/ West Papua, it still tends to think of the 'Stone Age' armed Free Papua Movement (OPM) in the jungle.

But since late 1998, an urban movement has emerged that has no overt connection with the guerrillas. This short item introduces the leading personalities of that urban movement.

No doubt the most prominent is Theys Eluay, aged 62 on November 12, 1999. He calls himself Great Leader of the Papuan Nation (Pemimpin Besar Bangsa Papua, up from Pemimpin Papua Barat, or Pemimpin Rakyat Bangsa Papua), but his influence is greatest in the Sentani area near Jayapura, where he is known as a tribal elder (ondofolo). His wife belongs to the Ohee clan, which successfully took the provincial government to the High Court a few years ago over a long-running land problem - this was an unprecedented success (though never properly implemented as far as I know).

The governor (in 1998?) appointed him chairman of the provincial customary council (Lembaga Musyawarah Adat Irian Jaya). He had been a fairly unremarkable Golkar member of the provincial parliament in the last period of the Suharto era. However, when Eluay began to speak out strongly in favor of independence for West Papua, Governor Freddy Numberi tried on October 1998 to pull him out of the customary council. This evoked strong protest from other Papuan opinion leaders, such as Phil Erari and Tom Beanal. Eluay was arrested at this time for raising a West Papuan flag (he was released and raised it again December 1999).

Not that the customary council is a terribly crucial institution. Another prominent figure on the council is Yorrys Raweyai, better known till now as a chairman of the thuggish pro-government youth organization Pemuda Pancasila in Jakarta. Just before the June 1999 election, Eluay announced he was resigning from Golkar and would start a West Papuan Party (which hasn't eventuated yet). Theys Eluay and Yorrys, the latter of whom is now putting himself forward as an important Papuan leader, seem to have some kind of relationship. This suggests that the West Papuan movement is populist and unorganized enough to be vulnerable to penetration by actors whose loyalties are unclear to say the least.

In 1969, Eluay was among the 1,000 delegates to a college that 'voted' for West Papua to become part of Indonesia in the widely criticized UN-supervised "Act of Free Choice." He recanted from this past in a long interview published in Cenderawasih Post in November 1998.

In August 1999, Indonesian authorities forbade five West Papuan activists from traveling overseas, and presumably the government regards them as key opinion makers. They were:

One other name that crops up repeatedly in the news is that of Don Flassy, aged 53, secretary of the provincial development planning board Bappeda, graduate in anthropology from the prestigious Dutch Leiden University 1991, also active in the Jayapura human rights NGO ELS-HAM.

Together, these seven people possess formidable credentials in academic, church, and NGO circles.

It is worth remarking that, unlike in East Timor during 1998-99, there are at present almost no Papuans prepared to argue publicly for staying with Indonesia, even under conditions of special autonomy. Besides Yorrys Raweyai, who is not very consistent in the views he promotes, almost the only two regularly mentioned as favoring this position are Yap Marey and Yoppi Youwe. Marey was evidently an OPM guerrilla some years ago, who was captured and is now often described in West Papuan literature as 'close to the armed forces.' Youwe is usually described as a customary leader in the Jayapura area.

Dr. Gerry van Klinken Resident Director Acicis (Yogyakarta) Editor 'Inside Indonesia Tel +62-274-515 519 Mobile +62-812-270 2729

Internet: http://www.insideindonesia.org/

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") Website: http://www.irja.org/ 

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.3 (3 votes)

Add new comment