Dialogue Divide: Papuans Are Ready to Talk About a Different Future. Is Jakarta? | November 5, 2011

The situation in Papua has taken a turn for the worse after last month’s forced dispersal of a pro-independence congress in Abepura. Six people were killed when 3,000 security officers descended on the gathering, and the violence continued in the weeks following. In all, 14 lives were claimed in October.

The situation desperately requires an intervention by the central government. Should the problem in Papua mistakenly be handled as a trivial one, it will be no surprise if the region follows the same path as East Timor and splits from Indonesia.

There are two choices: Either the government allows the Papuan situation to heat up, or it takes immediate and concrete steps to find a lasting solution that deals with the very root of the problem. The question is, how serious and how committed is the government to solving the conflict that is now setting the land of the paradise bird afire?

The government is giving the impression it is deliberately allowing the conflict in Papua to flare, and that it is actively seeking to sustain tensions.

In a national address on Aug. 16, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would regain control over the situation and govern the land of Papua (read: Papua and West Papua) with his heart.

Of course we applaud the commitment of Indonesia’s number one citizen. I think Yudhoyono has already come up with the measures and steps that are most prudent and that would be acceptable to both Papua and Jakarta.

In the book “Papua Road Map,” Muridan Satrio Widjojo, along with several other researchers at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that one of the root causes of the problem in Papua is the issue of the incorporation of Papua into the Republic of Indonesia, which was, and still is, resented by most Papuan people.

Papuans reject the results of the consultation of the Papuan people that took place in 1969 (the so-called Act of Free Choice) because it was not implemented in a fair, honest and democratic way, as it violated the principle of “one man, one vote” as agreed in the New York Agreement of 1963.

In order to implement this so-called referendum, Indonesia chose 1,025 people — indigenous Papuans and non-Papuans — to represent the 800,000 Papuans at the time. They were asked to choose between integration within Indonesia or separation through self-determination, as an independent and sovereign nation.

Almost all chose integration within Indonesia. Later on, it was revealed that they “chose” under threat and were held at gunpoint by the Indonesian military.

Papua then “officially” became part of Indonesia in 1969 — 24 years after Indonesia had proclaimed its own independence — through United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2504.

The other event at the root of the problem is the contract of work between the Indonesian government and the company Freeport-McMoRan, which came into force in early 1967, two years before Papua formally joined Indonesia.

The issue of integration of Papua into Indonesia and the presence of Freeport on Papuan soil represent a major problem, and there should be room for dialogue between the central government and Papuans. All stakeholders in Papua should be called upon to participate in the dialogue. And it goes without saying that the dialogue should be mediated by a third party or a neutral state.

The dialogue proposed by the Papuans would not be much different from the dialogue the government entered into to reach a lasting settlement in Aceh at the end of 2006, following the Indian Ocean tsunami.

When the demand for dialogue over Papua became increasingly prominent, the government “answered” by creating a special unit called the Unit for the Acceleration of Development of Papua and West Papua (UP4B) through a presidential decree. The unit was approved by Yudhoyono in late September, and retired military officer Lt. Gen. Bambang Darmono was appointed chairman.

The mandate stipulated in the UP4B decree does not differ much from that found in the 2001 Law on the Special Autonomy of Papua. But the special autonomy law’s authority was greater, and it included Papua in its entirety.

The law, which was compiled and drafted with the participation of only a few Papuans, received stiff opposition and was considered a total failure. The UP4B was established unilaterally by the president, together with a few people who are allies of Jakarta.

I fear the implementation of the UP4B program will only create new problems in Papua. An actual synchronization between the Law on the Special Autonomy of Papua and the UP4B is an issue that has not even been raised, especially in discussions with key Papua figures, which would give it legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Papua.

Papuans have been ready to hold a dialogue with the government since the Papua Peace Conference (KPP) in Jayapura in early September. The convening of the conference indicated the willingness and the readiness of the Papuans to make peace and to discuss a better future, and most important, it showed their commitment to uphold Papua as a land of peace.

My anticipation grew because Papuans had chosen the representatives from the region who would sit at the negotiating table if only Jakarta were to open the door to dialogue.

Still Papuans are waiting to learn whether a dialogue between Jakarta and Papua, mediated by a neutral third party, will be held. The faster, the better.

Oktovianus Pogau is an official with the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB). He blogs at


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