Wed, 18 Oct 2000

W. Papua: A self-fulfilling prophecy

By Arian Ardie

JAKARTA (JP): The tragic events that have occurred in Wamena, West Papua (Irian Jaya) over the past few weeks should have come as a surprise to no one. What is perhaps surprising is that they have not occurred sooner.

The central government, in its zeal to maintain territorial integrity, has only focused on the eradication of the symbols of discontent rather than the root causes.

The issues raised by the West Papuan people, respect for their basic human rights and the ability to have a voice in determining their own future, are basic human aspirations shared by all.

However, the government has not addressed the basic grievances of the West Papuans. These include human rights abuses, a consistent policy of under-development by a central government that has profited from resource exploitation but done little in terms of reinvestment in the province, and an inability to treat the West Papuans as equals under the law.

What West Papuans are demanding is the opportunity to engage in a comprehensive dialog to address these issues. They have pledged to pursue their aspirations in a non-violent manner without the repressive tactics to which they have been subjected under the Soeharto regime.

Admittedly, there have been calls for independence, but these have been couched in the context of free and open dialog, which is an integral part of a true democracy to which Indonesia as a nation now aspires.

If the government were to engage in a meaningful dialog with the West Papuans it would find that the calls for independence are more a call for emancipation rather than a call for separation.

These aspirations and their true meaning cannot be understood unless a dialog is undertaken. They cannot be understood if the starting premise of the government is the vilification of those leaders who are calling for just treatment of their people and a more equitable share of the profits from the land on which they live.

If the central government truly wants to keep West Papua as part of the Republic of Indonesia it may wish to consider the manner in which it represents itself in the province.

The government should project its presence not through representatives of the security forces, but rather through teachers, nurses, doctors and community development workers -- people who, through their work, can demonstrate the benefits of being part of the greater Indonesian nation.

Solving the conflict in West Papua will be a true test of Indonesia as a democratic nation. The ability to integrate West Papua into the patchwork quilt of the diverse races and cultures that make up this great country will test its commitment to democracy, freedom of speech and human rights.

Indonesia has the moral and intellectual foundation to do so. Its national motto, Unity in Diversity, and the tenants of Pancasila provide that foundation if diligently applied. The concept of musyawarah mufakat, which translates into a comprehensive dialog based upon mutual respect, deliberation and consensus, is one that the West Papuans dearly desire.

These are the concepts of nationalism that will keep West Papua part of Indonesia, not force applied through the barrel of a gun.

The central government still has the opportunity to use these concepts in a constructive manner for the benefit of the country as well as the West Papuans. Failure to do so will only result in another self-fulfilling tragedy.

In its desire to help the government move forward, the Papuan Presidium is proposing a three-point plan, which it wishes to incorporate into a memorandum of understanding with the government.

The first point declares West Papua a zone of peace where neither government troops nor West Papuans carry weapons. This does not preclude the presence of the security forces, but does require that they are unarmed, as would be the West Papuans.

The second point calls for an open and comprehensive dialog in which the issues would be discussed. If the dialog is comprehensive it should also include the issues of central government, namely the desire to maintain territorial integrity, as well as the issues dear to the West Papuans.

The third point calls for the continued development of West Papua, something to which the Indonesian government is already committed.

These three points ultimately represent a vision of how the West Papuan conflict could be resolved. They also mirror statements that the President himself has made in the past, both in public and in private. As such, they should not be antithetical to the government's point of view or objectives.

However, despite this conscientious attempt to avoid confrontation, the recent aggressive tactics employed by the police's elite Mobile Brigade indicate that there has been a major shift in policy at the highest levels of government on how to handle the problems in West Papua.

The indications are that the government is now unwilling to engage in dialog, and would rather use aggression to enforce its will. This course of action seems to be more in line with the excesses of the Soeharto regime than the reforms of the democratically elected government of Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The proposals put forth by the Papuan Presidium may not necessarily be the right answers, but at least they attempt to find answers. The plan presents a vision for the future that will result in a more democratic nation. This option is certainly better than trying to maintain Indonesian integrity by force, which has not worked in the past.

It will only be a self-fulfilling prophecy for disaster.

The writer has made frequent visits to West Papua and attended the Papuan National Congress as an observer. He is a senior consultant at Van Zorge, Heffernan and Associates, a Jakarta- based political risk consultancy.