Tag Archives: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis [India]

Indonesia and the challenge of Papuan separatism

copyright rests with original author

Piece originally appears at http://www.idsa.in/node/5803/1097

Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis [India]
August 25, 2010


Indonesia and the challenge of Papuan separatism

Bilveer Singh


If there are any symbols of Papuans’ continued quest and determination
for sovereign independence1, it is their continued attachment to their
flag, the Morning Star or Bintang Kejora (in Indonesian), their
Anthem, Hai Tanahku Papua (in Indonesian) or Oh, My Land Papua,
written by a Dutch missionary in the 1930s and the continued existence
of the OPM, Papua Independence Movement since 1964. The Morning Star
was first formally unveiled on 1 December 1961, symbolising the onset
of the Republic of West Papua and flew till October 1962, when the
former Dutch colony was transferred to the United Nations Temporary
Executive Authority through a deal brokered by the United States,
mainly to prevent Indonesia from joining the Soviet Camp during the
Cold War. Indonesia took control of the territory in the following
year and formally incorporated West Papua, renamed West Irian, into
Indonesia in 1969, recognised by the United Nations. However, Papuans
have continued to challenge the territory’s integration into Indonesia
and a bloody struggle has ensued ever since, with supporters of Papuan
independence claiming that more than 100,000 Papuans have been killed
by the Indonesian military. The violence has continued right to the
present period and it remains illegal to fly the Bintang Kejora in
Indonesia and many Papuans continue to be incarcerated for doing so.
Anatomy of Papua

Located on the easternmost part of Indonesia, geographically it
constitutes one-fifth of the country but only has a population of 3
million (of which the natives constitute only 50 per cent). Indonesia,
where 90 per cent of the people are Muslim, has a population of nearly
240 million. Papua is a largely Christian territory, where the
Protestants constitute the majority, followed by the Catholics and
then Muslims. However, tribalism is extremely dominant with more than
265 tribes representing the Putra Daerah or Sons of the Soil
(natives). Yet, the territory is extremely rich in natural resources,
especially oil, gas, gold and copper. It is also geo-strategically
important, bordering on land with Papua New Guinea and fronting the
Pacific Ocean.
Explaining Papuans’ Desire for Independence

Even though Indonesia declared independence in August 1945 and had to
fight the Dutch to gain complete sovereignty in December 1949, the
Dutch only surrendered Papua in October 1962. This represents an
important historical anomaly as Papua remained for another 12 years as
a Dutch colony compared to the rest of Indonesia. This provided the
Dutch ample time to develop a local Papuan elite that was committed to
independence and hence the importance of the Morning Star, National
Anthem, not to mention a rudimentary Parliament that was formed in
Jayapura in 1961. However, due to the Cold War, President Kennedy
succeeded in pressurising the Dutch to surrender the territory in 1962
and Indonesia, with the support of the West, legitimately gained
control of the territory by 1969. However, this was largely undertaken
against the wishes of the Papuan elites and hence the continued
struggle for Merdeka or independence ever since.

> From the perspective of Papuans, there are a number of grievances that
have provided a catalyst and triggered their demands for independence.
First, the sense of historical injustice when Papua was handed over to
Indonesia by the Dutch in 1962 without consulting Papuan elites and
later, the fraudulent manner in which the referendum, called Act of
Free Choice (but what the Papuans call Act of No Choice) was held in
1969. Thus, for the Papuans, Indonesia is an illegal colonizer and the
territory’s status should be reviewed through a referendum. Second,
gross unhappiness in the manner Jakarta has flooded the territory with
non-Papuans, mostly Muslims, thereby creating what Papuans refer to as
‘demographic and cultural genocide’ and where they are fast becoming
minorities in their own land. This has also intensified
social-cultural conflicts between the natives (Putra Daerah) and the
transmigrants (Pendatangs), the latter usually backed by officialdom.
Third, demographically, Papuans feel discriminated against, with the
majority Malay Indonesians looking down on the Melanesian Papuans (for
their dress code, eating and drinking habits, etc) and worst still,
most privileges being given to the former at the expense of the

Fourth, there is the rising impoverisation of the Papuans. Despite the
immense wealth of the territory, Papuans are among the poorest in
Indonesia. Instead, the wealth is sucked out to benefit non-Papuans
and foreigners, who in alliance with Jakarta, continue to benefit from
Jakarta’s rule over the territory. The operation of Freeport McMoran,
the world’s largest gold mine operator, is a case in point. Fifth,
Papuans are also in rage as the territory’s environment has been
pillaged and more important, the forest, which for the Papuans is not
only a community property but also important religiously, being
plundered. Finally, most blatant of all, has been the immense human
rights violations undertaken continuously by almost every government
in power in Jakarta since the days of Sukarno. Papuans have continued
to suffer as Indonesia has continued to treat the territory as a
colony and where any form of opposition, peaceful or otherwise, is
dealt with brutally. Indonesians refer to this as the ‘security
approach’ to development and Indonesia’s democratization in 1998 has
not really altered much as far as Papua is concerned. Many Papuan
leaders have been murdered by the Indonesian military, such as Theys
Eluay in November 2001. The continued existence, despite weaknesses,
of the Papua Independence Movement, is a testimony of Papuans’
willingness to take to arms to achieve their goal of independence. In
short, injustice, intolerance, exploitation and violence are the main
drivers that have motivated Papuans to seek an alternative future for
Why is Indonesia Unwilling to give in to Papuan Separatists?

Papua is not only strategically vital, being a land, air and maritime
border zone, but probably more important is the immense wealth it
possesses. Jakarta depends on Papua for the bulk of its revenue and
Papua is probably Indonesia’s most important ‘golden goose’. It would
be a strategic and economic disaster if the territory were to be lost.
Also, Indonesians view Papua as an integral part of the Unitary State
of the Republic of Indonesia and any leader even contemplating giving
independence to Papua would be viewed as a national traitor, a price
President Habibie paid for East Timor’s independence. At the same
time, despite Papuans’ unhappiness, the bulk of the international
community continues to support Indonesia’s ownership of Papua given
that Indonesia is much more important than Papua. Jakarta leaders have
also argued that to give in to Papuans’ demand for independence would
open the Pandora’s Box leading others to demand likewise, resulting in
the break-up of Indonesia. In the final analysis, it is the simple
issue of political, economic and military asymmetry, and where the
Papuans are simply not in a position to challenge and dislodge
Indonesia. As such, while Indonesia is unprepared to abandon the
territory and most Papuans are unhappy to remain in Indonesia, the
impasse cannot be broken due to the paralysis both parties find
themselves in.
Indonesia’s Peace Overtures

Following the collapse of Suharto’s New Order and the onset of
democratic Indonesia, Jakarta has made peace with other separatists,
be it in East Timor (through a referendum leading to independence) or
with Aceh (leading to greater autonomy and local rule). In the same
vein, Jakarta has peddled what is referred to as Autonomi Khusus or
Special Autonomy in 2001, to meet half way Papuan grievances and
demands, and rejected a referendum a la East Timor as was demanded by
Papuan activists, fearing a break up Indonesia. While Papuans have
gained much in terms of Special Autonomy funds (5 trillion Indonesia
Rupiahs to date), the territory remains backward as the bulk of the
money is used for administration and pilfered through corruption. At
the same time, despite agreeing to a Special Autonomy status for
Papua, Jakarta has continuously undermined it. First, without
consulting the local administrative bodies, as was provided for in the
Special Autonomy arrangements, Jakarta divided Papua into three
administrative provinces even though later the Constitutional Court
deemed this illegal but two provinces remain in operation today.
Second, despite agreeing to permit Papuans to display their cultural
attributes, Jakarta reneged on this, arguing that it was promoting
separatism, especially with regard to the display of the Morning Star
and singing of Hai Tanahku Papua. In short, Papuans continue to view
Jakarta in bad faith and this is the main reason why the Cendrawasih
(Bird of Paradise) symbolising Papua, continues to fear the Garuda,
symbolising Indonesia.
Papuans Remain Unsatisfied and Suspicious

While some Papuan elites accepted the Special Autonomy proposal,
eventually, most in Papua were unhappy as hardliners in Jakarta
believed that too much had already been given to the Papuans and that
if no ‘roll-back’ takes place it will only be a matter of time before
Papuan independence becomes a reality. Also, most Papuans do not see
any major improvement in their livelihood, especially the violence
against them by the military, police and intelligence apparatus.
Instead, many Papuans would prefer to internationalise their plight
and seek a third party to settle the issue as they do not trust the
Jakarta elites and Indonesians in general. Jakarta, instead, realising
that the Papuans are being lost, has tried to launch various ‘peace
talks’, organised by the Coordinating Ministry for Politics, Legal and
Security Affairs, the Indonesian Intelligence Agency, Home Affairs and
even Indonesian Resilience Agency (linked to the Defence Ministry) but
with no success. Incumbent President Bambang Yudhoyono has tasked the
Indonesian Institute of Sciences to draw up a ‘road map’ for Papua’s
future, but again little progress has been made. All these Indonesian
measures are aimed at circumventing internationalization of the Papuan
issue, which most Papuan elites demand but which Jakarta has been
unwilling to agree even though with regard to the Aceh settlement, a
third party, with the support of the Norwegian Government, succeeded
in making a breakthrough. Papuans are hoping for a similar opportunity
so as to ensure that the agreement reached between Jakarta and
themselves will be honoured.

In the meantime, as the deadlock continues, Papua continues to burn.
Violence by the security apparatus against Papuans continues to be
reported, with the military and police hunting the new separatist
leader, Goliat Tabuni, who succeeded Kelly Kwalik, who was shot dead
in December 2009 by security forces. With little or no hope of
progress, with the abuses and violence continuing, the traditional
separatist leaders are also losing their grip over their followers,
with many of these leaders accused of being covert operatives for
Jakarta. Amidst the continuing violence, Jakarta is rumoured to be
thinking of creating additional provinces in the territory, in a
traditional game of divide and rule, to weaken Papuan nationalism and
quest for independence. This has, instead, led to the rise of new
radical and hard-line younger leaders who are prepared to raise the
stakes through greater violence, to make Jakarta pay more dearly, and
more importantly bring the fight to Jakarta so that Indonesians and
the world community will pay greater attention to their plight. In
short, the HAMAS of Papua seems to be surfacing and if Jakarta
continues to neglect Papuans’ demands, the struggle is likely to
worsen, at great cost of life to both Papuans and Indonesians as a
whole, and where the international community, with stakes in Papua and
Indonesia, will also be affected. Not only will Indonesia’s democracy
but more importantly the very idea of Indonesia as a unitary state
will probably be under stress and test.

1. For deeper insights into the Papuan conundrum see Bilveer Singh,
Papua: Geopolitics and the Quest for Nationhood (New Brunswick, USA:
Transaction Press, 2008).