By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Jakarta must change tack and address local grievances if it is to resolve the conflict in Indonesian Papua, where violence has spiked in the past two months, International Crisis Group said this week.
Papua - which comprises two provinces on the western half of New Guinea island - has long suffered strained ties with Indonesia which took over the region from Dutch colonial rule in 1963. A low-level insurgency has simmered for decades, led by the Free Papua Movement (OPM).
In a report, Brussels-based think tank ICG criticised the Yudhoyono government’s peace-building efforts as ineffective and “glacially slow”.
It urged Jakarta to speed up the creation of a dedicated unit that will implement development projects and address more sensitive issues relating to land, conflict and human rights in Papua and West Papua.
In Hope and Hard Reality in Papua, ICG said a draft decree to set up the unit has been on the Cabinet Secretary’s desk since May, but there is no indication when it will be approved by the president, to whom it will be directly responsible.
Without a unit that reaches out to different groups in the region, “one of the biggest obstacles to conflict resolution in Papua will re-emerge: Jakarta’s indifference to indigenous Papuan concerns,” ICG said.
“The government of President Yudhoyono, on Papua as on everything else, has been glacially slow to develop a policy that would be different from the default response of throwing cash at the problem and hoping it will go away,” the report said.
“(With a fresh approach), it’s not a guarantee that the situation will get better, but without a fresh approach from Jakarta, it will certainly get worse,” ICG added in a statement.
ASPIRATIONS VERSUS REALITY
The report contrasts the aspirations voiced during a recent Papua Peace Conference near the provincial capital, attended by Indonesian lawmakers, with the reality of escalating conflict in the remote and rugged highland district of Puncak Jaya.
There a pattern of OPM ambushes on security forces followed by counterinsurgency operations has led to serious human rights violations, deepening local resentment, ICG said.
The ongoing violence in Papua - with more than 20 deaths in just a few days in late July and early August - is fuelling local and international political activism, which in turn has generated antipathy in Jakarta “to any steps towards conflict resolution that involves political grievances”, it added.
The peace conference developed a set of indicators to measure, for example, whether indigenous Papuans feel safe and can live freely without intimidation, discrimination and marginalisation, which could be translated into concrete programmes, ICG said.
“Ending intimidation need not require independence, nor does protecting customary land. Nor does everything depend on Jakarta; local governments at the provincial and district level can also work toward some of the goals that the conference participants articulated,” the report said.
The need for concrete steps to address local grievances is becoming more pressing. In early August, thousands of indigenous Papuans marched on the Papuan capital’s parliament, demanding a referendum on independence from the archipelago.
Rights group have accused Indonesian security forces of human rights violations in Papua, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
ICG said many factors, including “a sense of historical injustice, harsh actions by security forces and clan-based factionalism”, feed the insurgency.
“But two common policy responses - more money and more troops (deployed for community service) - are not likely to bring about improvements,” it warned.