Mon, 09 Oct 2000

Wisdom for police

Have our police officers ever heard of the word bijak (wisdom)? You wouldn't think so from the way they mishandled the unrest in the hill town of Wamena in Irian Jaya. While we have yet to hear the full story of how the latest outbreak of violence in Wamena began, the scant details give an all too familiar picture of another poorly executed job by our security apparatus.

The weekend unrest in Wamena started on Friday when police began to forcefully remove Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flags of the separatist Irian Jaya movement from the streets and buildings in the town. This action offended many local people who then resisted the police's actions. Clashes were inevitable as were casualties, and two civilians were killed. Outraged by the incident, the Wamena people went on a rampage on Saturday, venting their anger at non-Papuan migrants. In all, at least 30 people were reported dead by Saturday.

The police in their defense could give all the excuses they could find in their textbook, but surely the incident would have been avoided if they had exercised greater wisdom -- a word which seems to be missing from the police vocabulary -- in handling the case.

Sure the police were just doing their job and sure the officers were only enforcing the law which forbids the hoisting of flags on Indonesian soil other than the national red-and-white flag. But did they really have to use force?

Haven't the government, the military and the police done enough damage in Irian Jaya -- or West Papua as the locals call their homeland -- these last 30 years with the excessive use of force? Have we not learned anything from our past mistakes and that violence begets even more violence.

This kind of behavior sowed the hatred among many Papuans against the rulers in Jakarta. This kind of behavior by the military in the past has driven more and more people into the fold of the separatist movement. Can we blame Papuans now if they are endorsing the idea of an independent state, as strongly reflected by the Papuan Congress in Jayapura in June?

The police, who have taken over the job of keeping security from the Army, have failed miserably. They have let the nation down. Instead of looking for poor excuses for a botched job, it would be wiser if the police leadership in Jakarta removed the chiefs most responsible for the operation and punish them accordingly. This would go a long way in containing the anger of the people in Wamena and the rest of Irian Jaya who are already deeply suspicious of Jakarta's intentions.

The Bintang Kejora flag has been flying across most towns in Irian Jaya, not just in Wamena, these past few months. It was President Abdurrahman Wahid who gave his personal approval to supporters of the separatist movement to raise the flag on certain conditions, including that it must be hoisted side by side with the Indonesian national flag, and that its size must not be bigger than the national flag.

One may accuse the President of showing too much tolerance to the separatist supporters, but he has exercised wisdom, knowing full well that outlawing the flag would have incited more rebellious activities and unnecessary casualties.

Many Papuans in the past have died unnecessarily or have been sent to jail for raising the separatist flag. Given the prevailing psyche in Irian Jaya in May-June around the time of the Papuan Congress, the President was wise to allow the Papuans to raise their flag, even if it was against the law. In any case, the law should be repealed because no person should go to jail or even die simply for expressing their sentiments in a democracy.

One would only wish that our law enforcement agents emulate the President and exercise greater wisdom now and then in the execution of their jobs. This country would probably be a better place to live for every one in every corner of the archipelago.