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By Muridan S. Widjojo Research Institute for Democracy and Peace (RIDeP), Jakarta

JAKARTA, Indonesia (November 28, 2001 – The Jakarta Post/TAPOL)---The murder of Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) chief Theys Eluay, who was found dead on Nov. 11, represents just one episode in Papuan history under the unitary state of the republic, dominated so far by the politics of violence.

From the time of Papua's integration into the republic in the early 1960s up to when Theys was slain, the security forces have continued to resort to violence, mostly under the pretext of eradicating the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and maintaining the republic's territorial integrity.

However, after nearly four decades, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has not been able to rout the OPM. Ironically the republic's integrity is increasingly under threat because excesses of military operations have bred violence and other human rights violations.

Instead of increased political stability and loyalty of Papuans to the republic, demands for independence have spread and militancy has increased. The politics of violence pursued by security personnel has made the Papuans even more resilient. Repression, once considered a deterrent and a means to enforce compliance, has failed.

The PDP clearly showed its defiance after Theys' burial. PDP meetings and regency's panels have demanded UN protection, the withdrawal of TNI from Papuan soil and a referendum.

The militancy demonstrated by the Papuan independence supporters is becoming more and more visible through the unfurling of the Morning Star flag, the use of other Free Papua symbols and defiance of the agenda offered both by the central government and the provincial administration. These movements have shown greater militancy as they are based on the local belief that Papuan independence shall mean liberalization and the advent of a new and more prosperous era for the people.

Theys was the chairman of the Papuan Presidium Council who was elected by the second Papuan congress. The congress was participated in by representatives from all regencies. Hence his leadership is held high in the eyes of Papuans. Theys' leadership is reinforced by mythology and the messianic ideology in which Theys is positioned as a kind of messiah, a savior.

He was therefore the leader of the largest faction of organized political resistance in Papua. Traditionally he was indeed only the leader, the ondoafi of the Sentani area, but the congress made him the leader of Papua.

The PDP under his leadership had "panels" which were the Council's structures in each regency. Most Papua intellectuals supported the PDP. For these reasons the Papua Free Movement (OPM) was less popular than the PDP among Papuans.

The people's increased militancy has served as a pretext for the TNI and the police to resort to repressive actions. Unless this is checked, the relationship between the republic and Papuans will never be harmonious and will always be marred by atrocities.

The government seems unable and unwilling to review whether its militaristic approach is effective in maintaining the country's unity or whether such an approach has brought about the opposite effect.

The political elite of Jakarta and Papua alike have been trapped in debates involving issues of the nation's integrity and the rights to independence. The government is preoccupied with special autonomy -- while autonomy to the Papuans is akin to their prolonged suffering. Hence their demand for "freedom," the antithesis of these sufferings.

Papuan leaders are overly ambitious to have a new state without realizing that it would merely be a superstructure, an instrument to enable a nation state manage its interests and achieve its goals.

The danger that both Papuans and others in Indonesia commonly fall into is protracted conflict that will lead to further misery for the people.

Even when the form of the province was not an issue, Papua faced a myriad of problems related to its development. Now both parties have been dragged backward into a dispute over autonomy and independence. There is a risk of neglecting development efforts to the disadvantage of the community.

Neither wide-ranging autonomy under the unitary republic, nor a free West Papua state, would guarantee a settlement of the problems of development and welfare of the Papuans.

These two alternatives still provide space for oppression, or even violence in another form, as long as Papuans are without political, economic and cultural strength.

The growth of civil society is thus crucial. Yet a civil society in Papua will never become powerful if the politics of violence continues amid the dispute over autonomy or independence.

The government must stop this politics of violence and allow room for the growth of civil society. People's empowerment must be achieved to ensure their pragmatic and rational involvement in the dynamics of politics, the economy and culture. Papuans would be able to voice their interests on an individual or collective basis, and protect their land, forests, rivers, seas and natural resources belonging to their forefathers.

Today, the urgent agenda for the pro-independence Papuan leaders and their counterparts in Jakarta is to sit together and try to understand each side's concerns with cool heads. Both sides must, in the shortest time possible, have a common understanding that the present uncertainty is disadvantageous to the Papuan people.

Uncertainty will only rob the Papuans of their right to enjoy recovery from the damage caused by the New Order regime and later governments. The government of Megawati Soekarnoputri must be able to introduce a new discourse, one not confined only to a dichotomy of special autonomy and independence. The language of culture and humanity must be given priority.

The Papuan political elite have said that their demand for independence is not a "fixed price." This means that in the Papuan political tradition, this demand is negotiable. The leaders of the PDP such as Tom Beanal, Herman Awom, Thaha Alhamid, Agus Alua and others are nurtured in a culture which prioritizes negotiation in the settlement of disputes.

The above demand for independence can be interpreted as an attempt to gain stronger bargaining power in dealing with the central government. The government must thus humbly open up and learn to understand the characteristics and patterns of negotiation commonly found among the Papuans.

Openness, sincerity and patience may win the hearts of the Papuan leaders and people and pave the way for a better future.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email:  Internet: 

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