Fri, 22 Aug 2003

Contradictions in Papua

Buried somewhere in the lengthy, state-of-the-nation speech by the President, made on Aug. 15 to the House of Representatives, was a casual reference to the situation in Papua.

The fact that President Megawati Soekarnoputri used the term "Papua" instead of "Irian Jaya" indicates that she was aware of the existence of Law No. 21/2001. In fact, she signed that law, which established special autonomy in Papua province. Apparently, she was also aware that two conflicting laws are currently being applied at the same time in the easternmost province of this republic -- the other being Law No. 45/1999 on the creation of new provinces in Irian Jaya, which was signed by President B.J. Habibie.

The President stated in her Aug. 15 speech, to quote the official translation, "a variety of approaches continue to be adopted to lead to a more positive direction, though politically such steps still require further scrutiny, particularly in harmonizing the perception and vision of the special autonomy and the enlargement of the regions in that province."

This particular quote should be considered the understatement of the year because it was President Megawati herself who in January this year signed Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003 on the formation of West Irian Jaya province, based on Law No. 45/1999. In other words, she has created the current messy situation in Papua that now, she said, required "further scrutiny" in order to "harmonize" the resulting contradictions.

Ironically, in that document the governor of Papua province, Jaap Solossa, was instructed to assist the new governor in Manokwari, the capital of West Irian Jaya province, in expediting his new duties.

This must be mind-boggling, not only for specialists in Indonesian administrative law, but also the public at large. In her reference to Papua province, as contained in the Aug. 15 speech, the President appealed for a constructive solution to overcome the messy situation that she had created. According to the official translation of the Aug. 15 speech she said, "We absolutely want to resolve those matters as soon as possible."

One would expect that the President had decided to seriously heed the recommendation submitted by the recent People's Consultative Assembly regarding the Republic's easternmost province. That recommendation is very much the result of pressure from the regional representatives' faction in the Assembly, and consists of two points: First, the government and the House of Representatives should revise Law No. 45/1999 and Presidential Instruction No.1/2003 in order to harmonize the two with the spirit of Law No. 21/2001. Second, to implement Law No.21/2001 on special autonomy for Papua province in its entirety and consistently, and to speed up the issuance of the required government decrees in order the realize this law, especially with regard to the formation of the Papua People's Assembly.

It is interesting to note that, according to a news item from Timika, the formation of the province of Central Irian Jaya will be declared on Aug. 23. This newly created province will be the new administrative location for the giant U.S.-registered copper and gold mining company, Freeport McMoran. The chairman of Mimika regency council stated, "The people continue to press for and support the establishment of the province of Central Irian Jaya."

In the meantime, the Indonesian Military (TNI) Headquarters (HQ) in Cilangkap, Jakarta, has launched a social-psychological campaign in order to create the impression that a crisis in Papua has been caused by the allegedly subversive activities of foreign agents. Col. D.J. Nachrowi, information chief of TNI HQ stated last Wednesday that the current situation in Papua had the potential to lead to an act of separatism within the Unitary Republic of Indonesia. "We have discovered about 20 foreigners in Papua disguised as journalists or representatives of non- governmental organizations, who are involved in sub-rosa (clandestine) activities," the colonel said.

He was only reflecting the subjective views of some of his senior officers, such as Minister of Home Affairs Lt. Gen. (ret) Hari Sabarno, who some time ago stated, "Instituting the Papua People's Assembly" (as stipulated by Law No. 21/2001) is virtually to create a state within a state."

We wonder indeed what the President had in mind when she stated that she intended "to resolve these matters as soon as possible." Will she submit amendments to the House of Representatives in order to soften some parts of Law No. 21/2001, which some of the generals in her entourage viewed as too progressive?

Or, mindful of the forthcoming elections, will she ignore that elegant, constitutional path and go ahead with the formation of new provinces in Papua?

The contradictory approaches in the political handling of the Papua situation and the attitude of disregard for the consequences caused by implementing two mutually contradictory laws have indeed given rise to concern that political stability in Papua will be negatively affected. Therefore, if the nationalists in the government of President Megawati Soekarnoputri -- whether in the Cabinet or the intelligence services or among the TNI leadership -- are sincere in their determination to preserve the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, then the recommendations regarding Papua as submitted by the recent Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) should be accepted as a policy platform.

To ignore these recommendations effectively means to show disrespect for the deep-seated political aspirations of the Papua people. That very act would itself weaken the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.