Govt Must Reach Political Deal with Papua: ICG

The government must reach a political settlement with restive Papua province to prevent simmering anger about broken promises of autonomy boiling over into violence, a think-tank has said.

Indigenous resentments over the eastern territory’s autonomy came to a head last month when protesters presented the provincial parliament with demands including a referendum on independence and international mediation.

This was followed by a promise from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to audit central government spending in Papua and West Papua provinces to ensure their special autonomy status was being well implemented.

In a new report, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (IGC) said an audit would not be enough unless it was followed by a genuine attempt to negotiate with indigenous Papuans about their political aspirations.

Indonesian officials all too often demonstrated a “contemptuous disdain” for indigenous Papuan representatives, even those who accepted autonomy within the Indonesian state and did not advocate independence, it said on Tuesday.

“The longer Jakarta refuses to discuss (grievances over discrimination, unfulfilled promises and past injustices), the stronger the radical voices will become,” the ICG report said.

“The Papuans are growing increasingly angry, while for senior officials in Jakarta it is a distant, if chronic, problem of no urgency whatsoever.”

It said an audit would be “useful, but the issues are not just about money as most Jakarta-based officials seem to assume.”

Core grievances which had to be addressed through dialogue included Jakarta’s failure to implement fully the autonomy status granted in 2001, demands that candidates for district-level elective office be indigenous Papuans and the flow of ethnic Malay migrants into the Melanesian-majority region.

“Many Papuan leaders, both moderate and militant, believe Jakarta has systematically undermined the concept of autonomy… and is unwilling to give up anything but money. They have a point,” the ICG said.

It said interviews with non-Papuan officials “revealed a rigid conviction about the primacy of national laws” which cast doubt on “what autonomy really means.”

Indonesia denies allegations of systematic human rights abuses in the Papua region but bars foreign journalists from independently reporting in the province.

Poorly armed guerrillas from the Free Papua Movement have waged a war of independence for four decades. Indonesian troops are regularly accused of abusing Papuan villagers in the name of anti-rebel operations.

Indonesia took over Papua, a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea island, in 1969 after a vote among a select group of tribal leaders, which was widely seen as a sham.

“After four decades without an effective solution, the claim that Papua’s integration into Indonesia is final, legal and irrevocable lacks credibility,” Indonesian academic Mangadar Situmorang said last month.

Fifty members of the US Congress last month signed a letter to President Barack Obama accusing the Indonesian government of committing genocide against the Papuans.

“Genocide is usually difficult to document since leaders are often reluctant to state their intention to destroy another nation, race, or ethnic group,” the legislators wrote.

The Pacific island state of Vanuatu, meanwhile, has promised to raise the Papua issue at the 41st Pacific Islands Forum, which it is hosting this week.

It has also called for the International Court of Justice to consider the legality of Papua’s incorporation into Indonesia.

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