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Aceh Peace Model Stumbles in Troubled Indonesian Papua Region

  • Brian Padden

Villagers survey a damaged house of a candidate, where a meeting was to be held, after hundreds of supporters of two rival groups clashed at Ilaga in Puncak, West Papua province, Indonesia, August 1, 2011 (file photo)

Villagers survey a damaged house of a candidate, where a meeting was to be held, after hundreds of supporters of two rival groups clashed at Ilaga in Puncak, West Papua province, Indonesia, August 1, 2011 (file photo)

There has been a spike in violence in Indonesia's Papua region following a peace conference held in July. While some officials hoped a peace agreement reached several years ago in similarly troubled Aceh province could be a model for Papua, the recent violence may be a reaction from hardliners opposed to any compromise.

An Indonesian military officer was fatally stabbed in the most recent attack in the country's Papua province. There have been at least seven shootings reported in the month of August.

Officials were hoping for less confrontation after July's peace conference. Those talks among officials and local Papuan groups were aimed at defusing the conflict between the Indonesian military and an armed separatist movement that has been fighting for independence in the region since 1969.

One of the organizers of the conference is Muridan Widjojo, a Javanese scholar who grew up in Papua and is now a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. He says the spike in attacks is in part a reaction from hardliners in both the separatist movement and the Indonesian military who oppose any compromise.

"The pro independence group has kind of an interest to tell to the world that there is something wrong in Papua and we are still here," said Widjojo. "We still exist. We still fight. And then also on the part of the security institutions, [they can say] see, Papua is not stable and Papua has still a strong resistance and unstable and we are needed to be there."

Special status

In 2001 Jakarta granted Papua special autonomy status, giving local authorities more control over tax revenues, but there has been little improvement in poverty, and human rights groups report continued abuses by Indonesian security forces.

The province is rich in natural resources and is home to U.S. gold and copper mining giant Freeport McMoRan. Tensions there between workers and security forces have led to violence.

Widjojo says the peace conference held in July was an attempt to ease tensions and search for common ground. Both Papuan representatives and Indonesian officials attended the conference. Widjojo says his long-term goal is to get both sides to agree to a solution similar to the Aceh peace agreement signed in 2005. That agreement followed the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and ended 30 years of armed conflict in Northern Sumatra. It replaced the Indonesian military with local police to maintain security but kept the province as part of Indonesia.

Right direction

Widjojo says the conference was a step in the right direction. But the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict resolution organization, says in a recent report that the conference did not build any bridges. The report says government officials offered constructive yet vague assurances but were taken aback by Papuan demands for formal negotiations mediated by an international third party.

Don Flassy attended the conference as part of the Papuan pro independence movement. He says nothing less than independence will satisfy the people of Papua.

"That's right, all people want to be like that," said Flassy. "You want to say, okay, this land of God, you want to stay, to be here, okay. You have to stay and to obey the rule, our rule here."

Djoko Suyanto, the Indonesian coordinating minister for political, legal, and security affairs, was the highest ranking government official to attend the conference. His spokesman Bambang Sulistyo says the government rejects any call for international involvement, dismisses the need for negotiations and says it will focus on making the current special autonomy status work more effectively.

He says the government sees the problem as a social, welfare and to a degree a political issue, and is putting together an accelerated development approach to solve these problems.

Action urged

The International Crisis Group report says a draft decree of this accelerated development unit has been lingering on the Cabinet Secretary's desk for the last three months. It urged swift action to deal with the underlying economic issues.

Widjojo is not yet discouraged by the lack of progress. He says peace negotiations require building trust over time to get both sides to move away from hard-line positions.

"If you learn from for example Aceh peace process, in the beginning the suggestion was almost the same, that the Free Aceh Movement also talk about independence," Widjojo added. "And it takes more pre-talk, you know, to open the possibility of compromises."

But he says progress in the short term is doubtful because of a lack of leadership on the issue from the Indonesian government and plans by Papuan leaders to organize a congress to restate their goal of independence.

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