A life of dedication to the Papuan People
Agus Alue Alua was born on 13 September 1962. He studied at the Catholic secondary school Dok V, Jayapura and later worked as a teacher, then spent three years studying at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium.
From 1997, he took part in discussions within Catholic circles about the need to wage a struggle for the rights of the Papuan people, always stressing the importance of eschewing violence and pursuing the path of peace.
During the reformasi era that followed in the wake of the downfall of Suharto, he made good use of the newly-found freedoms to discuss such issues as development and the basic rights of the people of West Papua. Under discussion at the time were two alternatives for West Papua, autonomy or independence from Indonesia.
Agus Alua was one of several Papuan intellectuals to be appointed to the Committee of 100 which held important talks with President B.J. Habibie on 25 February 1999. According to a colleague, he impressed everyone as he spoke with conviction and dignity: ‘We want our freedom,’ he said. ‘We want to organise our own homeland.’
The meeting ended inconclusively. The Papuans were advised to go away and consider their situation but the talks were never resumed. He was one of the first Papuans following that aborted encounter with Habibie to spread the idea about the need for dialog with Indonesia.
Catholic church leaders made good use of the more conducive political atmosphere to discuss the role of the church in Papua’s political struggle. While Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar OFM who was then the Bishop of the Jayapura Diocese, was hesitant about siding with the Papuan people, Agus who was a lecturer at the STFT -Fajar Timur (the High School of Philosophy and Theology) at the time challenged these thoughts, warning that if the Church failed to side with the Papuan people, he and others would set up a Papuan Catholic Church.
At the historic Second Papua Congress in June 2000, Agus Alua was elected deputy secretary-general of the Central Council of the newly-created PDP, the Papuan Presidium Council, one of two Papuans from the Central Highlands, along with Tom Beanal, and two from the coastal regions, one of whom was Theys Hijo Eluay, who became chairman of the PDP. Theys was assassinated in November 2001 by members of the army’s elite force, Kopassus. As a member of the PDP Central Council, Agus Alua played a key role in drafting documents that gave voice to the need to struggle for the Papuan people’s aspirations.
He later became the Rector of STFT-Fajar Timor, where he had previously been a student, as well as Director of the Catholic Senior Seminary. He also wrote and published several books about the culture of the Dani people and about a whole range of Papuan political issues.
However, the Papuan spring ended in 2002 when Kopassus agents infiltrated the PDP leadership and set about destroying the movement from within. Some of its leaders withdrew, several died under mysterious circumstances, while others gave up the struggle and threw in their lot with Indonesia. Agus remained true to the Papuan struggle, using all means possible at home and abroad, frequently visiting countries in the Pacific and Europe to win support for the Papuan people.
When the Special Autonomy Law, OTSUS, was enacted in October 2001, a special council composed solely of Papuans, the Majelis Rakyat Papua, the Papuan People’s Council, was set up which he recognised as an institution of crucial importance in the fight for Papuan aspirations. He became its first chairman with the support of Bishop Leo Ladjar, a position he held for the first five-year term of the Council till shortly before his death.
He fought strenuously throughout his term to expose the malicious strategies of the central government which sought to undermine OTSUS. From the start, the central government had been half-hearted about OTSUS and had even delayed its establishment for several years, fearing that it might become a springboard for Papuan political aspirations One of the moves from the central government to undermine the unity of the Papuan people was the decision to split West Papua into two provinces which Agus Alua vehemently opposed. He continually worked hard to counter the government’s attempts to create divisions and conflicts among the Papuan people.
After the creation of the two provinces, he insisted that there should be a single MPR and whenever Jakarta pushed for policies to undermine OTSUS, he strenuously resisted, along with his close colleagues Frans Wospakriek, former rector of Cendrawasih University, and Hanna Hikoyobi who was deputy secretary-general of the MRP.
Among the many central government decisions he opposed was Presidential Decree No 77 which banned the use of Papuan symbols such as the Morning Star flag, the mambruk bird and the Papuan song, Hai Tanahku Papua, insisting that these were legitimate cultural symbols provided for within the terms of OTSUS. Another of his decisions was to make it obligatory for all positions of leadership in the Papuan provinces and regions to be held by indigenous Papuans.
Before ending his term as chairman of the first MRP, Agus oversaw the adoption of eleven recommendations. These recommendations included a declaration that OTSUS had been a failure and should be returned to Jakarta, that there should be an internationally-mediated dialogue, facilitated by a neutral third party, and that a referendum should be held on the question of Papuan sovereignty. These eleven recommendations comprehensively set forth the basic demands of the Papuan people and continue to inspire the Papuan struggle to this day.
Agus Alua was always steadfast in his support for Papuan efforts to make Special Autonomy a reality against constant obfuscations from central government, and continually used his outstanding intellectual abilities to promote Papaun interests and aspirations.
At the time of his tragic death, the second-term MRP was due to be inaugurated amid disputes about its membership, with Jakarta rejecting the appointment of Agus Alu and Hanna Hikoyobi. According to sources in Jayapura, these two had been elected as members of the new body, against the wishes of central government. The appointment of the second-term MRP is still in dispute; some of his colleagues believe that the pressures and intimidation he experienced at the time plunged him into deep depression, leading to his untimely death on 7 April. On that day, he was found lying on the floor at home and was rushed to hospital but was dead on arrival.
He is survived by his wife Cornelia Pekey and his three children, Liberta Claudia Alua, Liberto Claudia Alua and Hilerti Alua.
Carmel Budiardjo [with help from Octovianus Mote]