Monday, August 22, 2011

Why is Papua still a conflict area?

I refer to an article titled “Academics, rights groups call for end to military approach in Papua,” (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 13).

It is now 48 years since Indonesia took over the administration of West Papua from the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority in 1963 and the people of West Papua are still struggling for justice and their right to self-determination. The question Jakarta should be asking is why?

Although Indonesia has made great progress towards democracy in recent years, unfortunately this has not translated to an improvement in the human rights situation in West Papua. West Papua is rich in natural resources, yet the Papuan people have one of the poorest health standards in the archipelago.

In May the military began a “socializing program” in Puncak Jaya with the idea of renovating homes, churches and markets, while in July the people of the region suffered another military operation with reports of up to 600 members of the security forces involved in sweeps through the region resulting in civilian and military casualties. This is all reminiscent of the US program in Vietnam to try and win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.

It is unfortunate that various sources in the security forces and government try to blame the troubles in West Papua on overseas involvement with one police official saying there are indications that there is “suspected foreign funding of the OPM”.

Yet in December last year cables released by WikiLeaks in relation to human rights in West Papua revealed that US diplomats blame the government in Jakarta for unrest in West Papua due to neglect, corruption and human rights abuses.

To avoid the situation in West Papua deteriorating further, Jakarta should take up the offer of dialogue from representatives of civil society organizations in West Papua who have been calling on Jakarta for years to engage in dialogue with the West Papuan people to try and peacefully solve all the issues of concern they have.

Your editorial of the 4th of August also supports this concept, stating “immediate measures must be taken for comprehensive dialogue between the central government and Papuan leadership, including those with a referendum in mind.” As Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Joe Collins