The Sydney Morning Herald
September 4, 2010
Papuans’ Future an Open Question After Failure of Autonomy
by Tom Allard
JAKARTA: A broad consensus is emerging in Indonesia that special
autonomy for the country’s fractious provinces of Papua and West
Papua has failed miserably.
> From military advisers to the President, Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, to respected think tanks and the indigenous
population of the resource-rich region, there is near unanimity
that the policy introduced almost 10 years ago to placate
separatist sentiment has resulted in only deeper discontent.
However, there is little agreement on who, and what, is to
blame, or how to repair the situation.
As part of a dialogue to address simmering discontent in the
region, the Indonesian government would have to acknowledge and
apologise for the manipulated vote in 1969 that led to its
inclusion in the republic, said the Jakarta-based analyst for
the International Crisis Group, Sidney Jones, the author of two
recent reports on the provinces.
Ms Jones warned that ”increased radicalisation is likely” if
reconciliation efforts are not pursued by Dr Yudhoyono.
Jakarta’s failure to address human-rights abuses in Papua and
West Papua, the two Indonesian provinces that make up the
western half of the island of New Guinea, the continuing heavy
presence of security forces, an influx of migrants, rampant
corruption and persistent poverty are all undermining the
”special autonomy” offered to the region almost a decade ago.
Violence has worsened in the past two years, and the Papuan
People’s Council, the body set up under special autonomy to
represent indigenous values, decided to symbolically ”hand
back” special autonomy to the provincial parliament as part of
a wave of mass rallies that took place in June and July.
Ms Jones said Dr Yudhoyono must begin talks as a matter of
urgency, starting discussions informally to avoid ”posturing on
both sides” before engaging in a public reconciliation. New
governing arrangements must then follow for the region, which
remains the major source of separatist agitation across the
sprawling multi-ethnic nation.
”They are going to have to address the Act of Free Choice and
acknowledge that there was a manipulated process,” Ms Jones
said. ”An apology and an acknowledgement about it is needed to
get over the hump.”
The region, with its Melanesian indigenous population, was
initially excluded from the fledgling Indonesian state during
negotiations with the former Dutch colonial government,
remaining under the control of the Netherlands until the 1960s.
Western powers ceded to Jakarta’s long-standing demands for the
region’s inclusion in the republic, but only after a United
Nations sponsored vote of Papuans. Rather than a broad
referendum, a hand-picked group of just over 1000 Papuans voted
unanimously in the 1969 plebiscite to join Indonesia. The vote
was widely derided as farcical and unrepresentative, and it
remains a potent source of rancour among Papuans and their most
powerful weapon in challenging the legitimacy of Jakarta’s rule.
While Ms Jones does not advocate a new referendum on Papuan
independence, or view it as likely, it remains a central demand
of a coalition of Papuan groups and the Papuan People’s Council,
or Majelis Rakyat Papua, a body with authority to speak for the
Melanesian population under the special autonomy arrangements.
Jakarta has declined to even respond to the demands. Even so, it
may well be a disappointing exercise for independence advocates
as the two provinces’ population is now reckoned to be split
evenly between the indigenous people and migrants from elsewhere
Dr Yudhoyono, in his only concession to the unrest, agreed to
begin an ”audit” of the region’s special autonomy next year.
Jakarta is dissatisfied with special autonomy because the Papuan
provinces get more money from the central government than any
other – $1 billion a year, or about 10 times more than provinces
in Java – but have yet to see much economic progress.
A leading Papuan activist in the main city of Jayapura,
Frederika Korain, said the special autonomy funds were going to
non-Melanesian Papuans who dominate the economy.
”In some areas, all the shops belong to non-Papuans,” she said.
Ms Korain said any reconciliation would have to be preceded by
the end to abuses by Indonesian security forces, curbing the
growth of pro-Jakarta militias and a sincere effort to give
Papuans back their ”dignity”.
She flagged a continuing campaign of mass mobilisation by
indigenous Papuans. While most are determined to pursue
non-violent means to achieve their ends, there is a small but
growing element who support taking armed action.