admin's picture

New bloodshed looms in Indonesian West Papua but Peter King believes it can be prevented -- if the democratic world is prepared to act.

SYDNEY, Australia (September 4, 2000 – Sydney Morning Herald/Kabar-Irian)---With army and police reinforcements deployed, militias forming, and Kopassus (special forces) units up to familiar tactics, is another East Timor-style holocaust looming in Papua? If so what can be done?

In Japan there is a saying among skeptics that, for serious reform, only gaiatsu (foreign pressure) works. For Indonesia this was certainly the lesson of East Timor last year, and the Papuans are very aware of it.

The Papua Congress issued its historic "declaration of non-integration" on June 3, claiming that Papua was never rightfully part of the Indonesian state. Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid roundly rejected it, but he continued to allow the Morning Star flag to fly, continued to acknowledge Papuan grievances and even allowed himself to be briefed on the "treasonous" Congress by the Papuan leaders. (In return a grateful Papua Presidium Council and its leader, Chief Theys Eluay, quietly suspended their historic declaration -- for so long as Wahid is not removed from power.)

We can only expect much less and much worse than this from the likes of Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri in her new role as surrogate president (or whatever it turns out to be) and from the military leaders who are making a comeback behind the scenes and behind her sarong.

Yes, the worst may indeed be coming around again in Papua: arrests and crackdown on the independence leadership, bans and crackdown on flag-flying (three deaths at a church already in Sorong last week), bans on "socializing" the results of the Papua Congress, bans on foreign travel by "Aspiration M" (for Merdeka, or Freedom) intellectuals, and more.

And, again, the Papuans will not be deterred. Like the Timorese they are certainly ready to die rather than give up the struggle. Chief Theys's threat to wage all-out war, responding to a call by Jakarta's legislators for strong action against secessionists, and the military build-up should be taken seriously in this sense.

But should the Papuans have to go on dying?

The focus of their own struggle now is to win local and international recognition for what they insist on calling the "straightening" of their history which locked them up inside an alien, plundering and domineering (as they see it) Indonesia via the debacle of the so-called Act of Free Choice in 1969.

But who will listen to their version of this story when a still notionally democratizing Jakarta is closing its ears and eyes once again? Whistling in the dark has begun, with the Papua Presidium Vice President Tom Beanal just back from the States claiming that Bill Clinton is on side. Ambassador Gelbard in Jakarta promptly heaped scorn on Beanal, and joined up with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, to declare undying opposition to Papuan independence. (Downer, though, contrived to forget that Australia vehemently supported self-determination for Papua until the late 1950s.)

However, Ambassador Gelbard does recognize that what he calls Papua's legitimate grievances (unwanted annexation not being one of them) do need to be resolved, but only "within the framework of a stable, democratic and united Indonesia."

That sounds like wishful thinking. We have at the moment an unstable, decreasingly democratic and increasingly disunited Indonesia. Is it Papua's responsibility to fix up the Indonesian mess before having its own grievances resolved?

Do we have to wait for thousands more to die in Papua out of respect for the questionable sovereignty there of a state which has done less than nothing to deserve it? We might bear in mind, too, that Indonesia's own politics and governing processes and -- dare one say it -- territorial integrity would be immensely strengthened, civilized and civilianized by shedding, if not Papua and Aceh, then at least Papua. Ask General Wiranto. No, we don't have to wait. It's time for gaiatsu not only in Papua, but in East Timor itself (again), where real pressure is overdue to stop the reinfiltrating Kopassus-backed militias. Also in Maluku where (according to Wahid himself) Suharto's untouched moneybags have been deployed to foment and aggravate the murderous communal conflicts.

So we do rather urgently need a policy to match the looming regional problems, if only to avoid another Timor-size billion dollar bill for peacekeeping and reconstruction in a ravaged Papua. And gaiatsu will have to play a big part.

Well, then, what kind of gaiatsu? Let us put our minds to it, but think IMF packages unstitched, think an international human rights tribunal for the whole of Indonesia and for all the Suharto years and beyond, think new international peacekeeping forces in Eastern Indonesia, think a referendum option for Papuans.

In any case think, and urge the Australian Government, which behaved so splendidly at times last year, to cut out the parrot stuff and come up with a policy.

Peter King is visiting professor at Kagoshima University Research Centre for the Pacific Islands and Japan, and convener of the West Papua Project in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment