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Analysis

A Reframed Pacific Regionalism – Rise of the Foreign Ministers

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Matthew Dornan - Supplied

Matthew Dornan – Supplied

By : Matthew Dornan

Jayapura, Jubi – In a post last September, we examined the first year of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism in the aftermath of the Port Moresby Pacific Island Forum leaders’ meeting. This year the action was in the Federated States of Micronesia, where for the first time, non-independent territories (New Caledonia and French Polynesia) were granted full Forum membership status.

Another first which went largely unnoticed was the inaugural standing meeting of the Forum Foreign Ministers in August (the meeting last year was a one-off affair; as of this year it becomes an annual occurrence). The foreign ministers’ meeting now serves as an additional filter on proposals submitted as part of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. Whereas previously proposals were assessed by the Specialist Subcommittee on Regionalism (SSCR) tasked with reviewing regional public policy submissions and vetted by the Forum Officials Committee, they are now also considered (and vetted) by foreign ministers.

The prior meeting of foreign ministers appears to have influenced what was discussed (and not discussed) in the Forum leaders’ meeting. It may also have bolstered the influence of Australia and New Zealand given their foreign ministers’ interest in regional affairs.

Australia and New Zealand were vocal supporters of admitting New Caledonia and French Polynesia into the Forum, a move agreed by leaders despite the subject not having been raised through the SSCR process, opposition from pro-independence groups within those territories, and reports of unease among some Forum member states. Of course, the inclusion of the French territories also sits at odds with the original impetus for establishing the South Pacific Forum (as it was then known) in 1971. France at the time had prevented discussion of decolonisation and French nuclear testing in meetings of the South Pacific Commission. The Forum Communiqué announced this important development in one factual line — “Leaders accepted French Polynesia and New Caledonia as full Members of the Pacific Islands Forum” – in a possible indication of disagreement among some Forum members.

The decision to include the territories, although considered inevitable by some, in the immediate term looks a lot like a response to Bainimarama’s continued criticism of Australian and New Zealand membership of the Forum. The move provides an entry for another OECD country (beyond Australia and New Zealand) to influence Forum activities. It may not have been complete coincidence that events in Fiji overshadowed those of Forum over the weekend, with the removal of Fiji’s Foreign Minister from his position by Bainimarama mid-meeting (via email) followed by the concerning arrest of opposition and trade union leaders. Bainimarama will now take up the position of Foreign Minister himself.

Australian and New Zealand influence was also evident in other areas. The leaders’ communiqué’s positive spin on PACER Plus was especially striking. It made no reference to Vanuatu’s concerns about the agreement, nor to Fiji’s decision four days ago not to join the agreement (the communiqué did describe Fiji as having reservations regarding the text). However, it did confirm previous comments by PNG’s Minister for Trade that PNG would not sign up – a stance confirmed by O’Neill at the Forum.

The relegation of West Papua as an issue was also notable. We might have expected to see West Papua given more prominence in the communiqué, given the fact that of the 48 regional policy public submissions that were received, 13 concerned West Papua. Instead, last year’s measured statement announcing the establishment of an independent fact-finding mission looks positively assertive when compared to this year’s communiqué, which simply states that leaders “recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) should remain on their agenda” (while also agreeing “on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia”). The influence of the larger Forum members was likely at play here, including that of Australia, New Zealand, PNG and Fiji.

What of other issues discussed by leaders?

A positive development was the increased assertiveness of the Small Island States (SIS) group, which now also includes FSM. The leaders of the Small Island States (SIS) met earlier in the year in Palau and agreed upon a five-point Regional Strategy [pdf]– a significant component of which involves preparation of joint applications for funding from the Global Climate Fund (GCF). Not only will this be the first such joint application that the GCF will have received, but it has the potential to inform future activities by the Forum.

Fisheries management was again on the agenda, having been discussed at last year’s leaders’ meeting. Leaders endorsed the work of the Fisheries Taskforce in implementing the Fisheries Roadmap agreed in 2015. Importantly, leaders supported the view of the taskforce that there need be no change to the Vessel Day Scheme. This had previously been the source of some concern within the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Secretariat. The call by leaders for an expanded focus on coastal fisheries is a positive development.

As occurred last year, the communiqué discussed the importance of climate change for Forum island members. Although bold, there was not a great deal that was new here. An exception was leaders’ agreement on a Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific [pdf], which aims to integrate the region’s climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction frameworks into one. This followed bungled efforts last year to do the same, which saw leaders reject a draft given opposition by some member states to the detail of that text. The voluntary nature of the framework agreed this year was no doubt helpful in securing leaders’ agreement. The framework has nevertheless been criticised for not doing enough to integrate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Widely reported in Australia was the PM’s announcement of $80m over three years for disaster response, which adds to the $300m over 4 years already announced for climate adaptation in the region. Although that figure sounds impressive, $75m per year ($300m over 4 years) is below that provided in 2013, 2012 or 2011 (in that last year, Australia provided just under $170m). It does nevertheless mark an improvement on the dismal $40m provided in 2014 (as discussed previously on this blog).

The communiqué’s reference to cervical cancer and ICT – two initiatives canvassed by leaders last year as part of the SSCR process – is especially notable. We criticised the proposals at the time for being vague; it was unclear what their regional dimension was. Read between the lines of this year’s communiqué and it would appear that leaders agree – they pointed out that, “while important, these issues do not require their continued discussion to be progressed”.

How does the 2016 Forum leaders’ meeting measure up? There was less potential for controversy than in 2015, when tensions over climate change between Australia (in particular) and New Zealand and Forum island members were prominent. Fewer leaders attended this year’s meeting (five Forum island leaders instead sent delegates). Leaders did discuss issues of importance for the Pacific, but the outcomes of those discussion were limited, with much of the communiqué repeating previous statements (with some notable exceptions, including on fisheries management).

In many ways this year’s outcome reflects the Framework for Pacific Regionalism’s success in attracting high level political engagement. Having very clearly set a political agenda for last year’s leaders’ meeting, the interjection of the foreign ministers this year would appear to have had a diluting effect in some areas, with the influence of Julie Bishop and Murray McCully evident on issues such as West Papua. Australian and New Zealand influence appears to have driven other decisions as well, including the status of the French territories. Whether such political engagement has the unintended effect of undermining future engagement with civil society through the SSCR process remains to be seen.

Author is Deputy Director of the Development Policy Centre. Tess Newton Cain (@CainTess) is a Visiting Fellow at the Development Policy Centre.

Analysis

Father Neles Kebadabi Tebay – ‘a pioneer’

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Fr. Neles Tebay Kebadabi, Pr – ucanews.com

By Theo van den Broek 

THE mass of funerary wreaths on the way up to the High school for Theology and Philosophy (STFT) where Fr Neles Tebay has been laid to rest is impressive. All layers of the society are represented, the government (local as well as national), the religious institutions, the NGOs, the security forces and great variety of persons and just ordinary people. No doubt left that the man who died at the age of 55 after fighting a devastating bone cancer has touched the heart and mind of a lot of people.

Here at the STFT he is back at the place where he has been lecturing from 2007 to 2019. To prepare for that he studied in the Philippines (Ateneo Jesuit) 1995-1998 and in Rome (Pontificia Universitas Urbaniana) 2000-2006. While he was at the STFT during 1998-1999, before leaving for Rome, Father Neles shared the experience of the relative short ‘spring-time’ in Papua after President Suharto was forced to step down and all of a sudden ample room was given to free expression of opinion and aspirations in Papua. Also churches responded to that change with giving more explicit attention to human rights issues and local aspirations and speaking up clearly via its Secretariat for Justice and Peace (SKP) in the Catholic Church and the Institute for Study of Human Rights (Elsham), very much connected with the Protestant Church.

Father Neles joined in with these developments as they challenged his own interest of looking for a way to overcome the often paralyzing socio-political problems in Papua. At his ordination as a catholic priest in 1992 in his home-community in Waghete, where he was born in 1964, the elders of the indigenous community handed him a ‘name with a mission’, Kebadabi, which means: ‘pioneer’, ‘someone who opens up the way’. Within that mission, the recent attention to human rights and related issues in Papua was very appealing to him.

Although he left for Rome in 2000, he nursed a close relationship with SKP and followed developments in Papua. Including landmark events such as the second Papua Congress that proclaimed so loudly the deep aspiration of the Papuan People to become independent. Including also the inspiring effort made during a SKP-organized workshop ‘Building a Culture of Peace moving towards Papua Land of Peace’ in 2002 that involved representatives of almost all the sections of the Papua-society to give more meaning to what “peace” in Papua should stand for concretely. The workshop delivered a rather comprehensive understanding of “Peace” touching very concrete aspects such as: harmony-unity, truth and justice, feeling secure, welfare, participation of all, solidarity and tolerance, recognition and self-esteem, information and communication. At the same time a motto got popularized, “Papua Tanah Damai” (Papua Land of Peace) under which the various sides could join in and meet each other. Fr Neles followed closely these developments and made them an active part of his own agenda.

As interest in Papua was also growing in the European community, Fr Neles became one of the main resource-persons invited to share his insights in the complex situation of Papua in various international conferences and workshops. Over a couple of years he – often in cooperation with SKP and Elsham in Papua – was able to create an impressive network of contacts and international understanding and sympathy for the situation in Papua. And, not surprising, the doctoral dissertation concluding his missiology study in Rome carries the title: “The reconciling Mission of the Church in West Papua in the light of Reconciliation and Repentance”.

Back in Papua (2007) he continued his journey as ‘a man with a mission’. In January 2010 the “Papua Peace Network” (JDP) was set up by a number of activists and Father Neles was named the coordinator for Papua, while Bapak Muridan S. Widjojo, research staff of LIPI (Indonesian Institute for Study and Research) was asked to coordinate the lobbying at the central government level in Jakarta. Developing its agenda JDP provided the motto “Papua Land of Peace” and its ‘comprehensive peace concept’ with a more operational structure and strategy. At the same time they used the results of a study by LIPI, “Papua Road Map: Negotiating the Past, Improving the Present and Securing the Future” (2008) as an analytical base. JDP’s aim can be summarized in just one word: dialogue! In just very simple words: ‘if we just stick to our respective “absolute conditions”, for Indonesia the indisputable political status of the Republic and for the Papuans the demand for independency, we only will stay in a paralyzing deadlock, no way out and finally everything will get lost. We have to open up, we have to look for the truth together and to recognize each other to find a dignified way. Sitting down together and dialoguing truly and honestly will be the sole way towards a solution that meets our human standard of dignity and mutual respect’.

Under the inspiring leadership of Father Neles, JDP organized consultation-meetings all over Papua, gathering Papuan communities, and at a later stage also reaching out to migrant communities, to discuss openly the situation in Papua and ‘what to do?’ The message was spread in Papua and many people started talking enthusiastically about the dialogue as a solution, while also intensive and very demanding lobbying took place in the centre of the national government in Jakarta, where Bapak Muridan accompanied Father Neles to win the heart and minds in the circle of policy-makers, including a listening ear of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Also a wider public was reached by Fr Neles via his writings in the various local and national papers. His way of writing was appealing because it put complex matters in simple language while respectfully addressing anyone who might have a different opinion. He put ‘another Papua’ on the national map, different from what most of readers used to encounter in the national mass-media. Part of his extraordinary personality was Father Neles’ capacity to communicate with just anybody, from the President to his beloved people in the village.

The results of the consultation all over Papua were put together during a “Peace Conference” in Papua in August 2011. This conference got ample support by the central goverment in Jakarta and was therefore promising as an important step in the right direction. The conference delivered an overview of indicators for peace in Papua, identified per sector of attention (economy, health, education, socio-cultural, security and politics). A handy and comprehensive Roadmap for Peace in Papua, ready to be used!

At the end of the Peace Conference and looking to the road ahead, initial remarks were made on how to select the participants for the very much hope-for dialogue. This part proved very sensitive and made some observers from Jakarta rather nervous, asking themselves: are we talking about a dialogue, or are we involved in a process of independency? This uncertainty translated into a lesser involvement of the central government in the further process, its participation decreased significantly leaving Father Neles and the whole JDP-team in a rather difficult position. But they never lost the conviction that they were moving in the right direction: bringing the various stakeholders together to find a solution together, no matter how sensitive the issues to be discussed might be.

A special event in Papua, the Third Papua Congress in October 2011, indirectly pressed again to look for dialogue. The Congress declared its independency as a Papuan Nation and doing so the participants were confronted with a very brutal reaction by the security forces. Some were killed and scores of people were beaten up and taken to the police station. The leaders were put in jail. This brutal action by the security forces triggered a heavy reaction nationwide, including very much nationally respected people who started questioning Indonesia’s policy in Papua, and started calling for a dignified approach to solve problems in Papua. Renewed interest in the dialogue surfaced clearly. Father Neles together with JDP’s efforts had evidently made their mark. Nine consecutive explorative meetings were hold gathering representatives from Papua with representatives from the central government during 2012-2014. Main aim: to get familiar with each other, creating mutual trust and insight in respective policies. Although an official summary of the results has been formulated, the impact of these meetings has been rather limited, partly because there was too much change in persons/representatives of the central government, and therefore no continuity reached or secured.

In the meantime Father Neles’ relentless commitment and struggle for a peaceful solution in Papua, which was already monitored quite intensive by partners in Europe, also gained attention in Asia. In 2013 Father Neles received South Korea’s prestigious Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award. This international recognition probably challenged the Indonesian authorities to give more substantial room to the dialogue with the Papuan people.

At the same time some other developments challenged the popularity of the dialogue pushed for by Father Neles. The developments around internationalization of the ‘Papua-problem’ that materilalized in and after 2013 and which resulted in a strong support by Pacific island states, in uniting the political struggle via a representative body named United Liberation Movement West Papua (ULMWP) and in opening up a discussion on Papua on international forums such as the UN and European Union. These developments didn’t go unnoticed by the indigenous Papuan community and slowly expectations raised high. These expectations were less connected with a dialogue, but more with backing up the agenda of the National Commission West Papua (KNPB) and the related international movement, a call for a new referendum on Papua’s political status. Within this context the presence of human rights violations, including being jailed, beaten up and even killed – the fate of quite some KNPB members – became a kind of ‘sacrifice needed’ and ‘taken for granted’ as the price to be paid.

Calling for peace and dialogue in this new context slowly became a very difficult and complex mission. And once in a while Father Neles was labeled as ‘being in the other camp’ or even mistrusted. Nevertheless Father Neles -and this characterizes him very much- never got discouraged and continued his call against the use of violence and his fight for the dialogue as the only dignified way towards a peaceful solution. It included also a meeting with the President in August 2017, where once again he had a chance to explain the need of a dialogue-process.

The President looked for some constructive steps towards a solution of the Papua-problem, and set up a national commission for dialogue chaired by Father Neles by the end of 2017. The commission was meant to start a ‘sectoral dialogue’, a dialogue on the concrete problems in some specific sectors, i.e. health, education, good governance, and economy. However, certain sectors were explicitly excluded from the mandate of the commission: no discussion on the political and security sector. Although very disappointed about this exclusion, after consulting with the JDP-team Father Neles accepted the nomination by the President as chair of the commission. Some of his friends were not pleased with his decision and told him so. Father Neles respected the difference of opinion and argued that ‘once again there was a small opening, an opportunity and that opportunity should be used in the process for the full and true dialogue he always has in mind. Indeed, not ideal, but a strategy that hopefully leads to more room for opening up the problems in the sectors not yet included in the current offer’.

Father Neles has struggled relentlessly to find a dignified solution to the problems. This is what people have seen and made him a pioneer who was pointing in the right direction. He has met with support and resistance in the process and has appreciated both, not forcing his opinion, but sharing. A spokesman for the National Commission West Papua (KNPB) voiced it in his own way: “Kebadabi (the pioneer) passed away. He left us the peaceful road to end the problems in Papua without killing the struggle of the Papua People”.

His consistent struggle, his never decreasing trust and optimism, his disarming warm laugh and high competence have made him the man who is accepted and loved by so many people, the man who was hoped for to become the first Papuan bishop in Papua, and the man who will be missed dearly. The Papuan People are extremely proud of him, as expressed during funeral speech by his old teacher, Phillipus Degei: “we, a very traditional indigenous Papua community, often looked down at, we, we delivered this great person to Papua, Indonesia and the world”.

Listening to all the people present during the ceremonies around his passing away and funeral, one extraordinary conclusion stands out indisputable: people recognize in Father Neles’ life and struggle their own ‘dream and aspiration’: being recognized and living in peace, peace, peace! That aspiration/dream is embodied in Father Neles and makes him the man to be followed, now and tomorrow! (*)

Author is a social political observer. Living in Jayapura.

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Analysis

The crackdown in West Papua continues before the pools

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A young Papuan and his colleagues who had been arrested by Surabaya Police for celebrating West Papua independence day December 1st, Saturday (1/12/2018) – AMP facebook

By Nithin Coca

WITH increasingly regular protests and a violent crackdown by police and the military, the contested Indonesian region of West Papua is currently seeing the highest levels of agitation it has experienced in years. Against a backdrop of Indonesia’s forthcoming general elections in April, tensions are rising over long-standing human rights violations, pro-independence agitation and lack of accountability for crimes committed by security forces.

“The situation is not improving for the better, it’s getting worse,” says Ronny Kareni, an Australian-based activist of West Papuan origin. “There is a divergence between Jakarta and locals, and that is deeply rooted in the historical status of West Papua.”

On 1 December 2018, more than 500 people were arrested in cities across Indonesia for commemorating the 57th anniversary of Papuan attempts to declare independence from Dutch colonial rule. Raising the pro-independence Morning Star flag or publicly expressing support for Papuan self-determination is considered a criminal offense against the Indonesian state.

The following day, on 2 December, pro-independence militants are reported to have killed up to 31 workers on the Trans Papua Highway construction project in the Nduga region of the Papuan highlands. Although the ongoing independence conflict in West Papua has resulted in the deaths of approximately 500,000 Papuans since 1969, this was the deadliest attack by militants in recent years.

The government response has been fierce, with activists reporting that military action has forced thousands to flee their homes.

With the media and civil society prevented from independently visiting the region, these reports are difficult to verify, but international human rights organisations have made pleas for calm. “We call on all parties, the Indonesian army, police and the Free Papua guerrilla fighters, not to target civilians,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

West Papua, which forms about half of the island of New Guinea, was not part of Indonesia when it gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. It was annexed in 1969 in a military-run election approved by the United Nations, in which about 1,000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote against independence. West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s New Order era under General Suharto (1966-1998), before being granted special autonomy status in 2001 in a bid to quell the independence movement. The island’s population, estimated at around three million, are mostly Melanesian and follow either Christianity or indigenous religions, unlike the rest of Indonesia which is mostly Polynesian and Muslim.

Natural resources have played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of Papuan history. Shortly after the rigged election of 1969, Freeport McMoRan, an American mining company, began operating in the region. This marked the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company and the Indonesian government. However, tax revenues mostly go to the western part of Indonesia which is much more developed; West Papua, in the east of the country, is the poorest region in Indonesia and its people see few benefits from resource extraction.

Jokowi’s promises of reform

In 2014, then Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (now president of Indonesia), an outside candidate in the presidential elections with no connection to Indonesia’s elite or military, made several campaign promises to address human rights in Papua. This included addressing the ability of the military to use its own internal trial mechanism rather than civilian courts, opening up the region to the foreign media and freeing political prisoners. Papuans saw hope in Jokowi, and he won the two provinces (Papua and West Papua, formerly Papua until 2003) that make up West Papua by more than 30 percentage points each. In an election where Jokowi won nationally by only 6.3 per cent, the region provided him with some of his best results.

Even months after his inauguration, President Widodo reiterated his promises directly to Papuans after a police shooting in Paniai killed five people.

“Jokowi made bold promises in front of Papuans attending Christmas celebrations, saying that he would investigate and solve this case, and bring peace to Papua,” says Papang Hidayat, a researcher at Amnesty Indonesia.

Jokowi initially made a few attempts to improve the situation in West Papua by releasing five political prisoners in 2015 and declaring the region open to foreign journalists, for example. But his power has been limited due to the role of security forces in West Papua, including the Indonesian soldiers who have maintained their presence in the region despite the fall of Suharto’s military rule more than two decades ago. As a result, most of his promises to make reforms remain unfulfilled.

“It became clear to many people that whatever [Jokowi] says, it will not be implemented,” says Kareni. “He is only a face for democracy, but [he is] not actually in power.”

Harsono agrees: “The situation on the ground, especially the resistance from the bureaucracy, is much bigger than his presidential authority, I’m afraid.”

Attempting to address political grievances through economic development

One area in which Jokowi has been able to push forward is on development. The government is investing massively in roads, airports and agriculture, including a plan to build 1.2 million hectares of palm oil and sugar plantations.

Following decades of underdevelopment, “the government feels the need to pay more attention to Papua,” says Arie Ruhyanto, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “Given the political setting, the option is limited to the non-political issues…hence, the Papua problem is always framed in the context of development issues, such as poverty and underdevelopment.”

In the end, this has only increased tensions, as many Papuans feel that development is either aimed at extracting resources or benefitting migrant workers from other parts of Indonesia. That’s one reason why the December attack by separatists was against the construction of the centrepiece of this new development plan – the 4,300 kilometre Trans-Papua Highway.

The response to the attack also highlights a major problem – that many in the Indonesian security apparatus do not distinguish between the peaceful protests and aspirations of the vast majority of Papuans, and a small minority of militants. In response to the Nduga attack, police arrested members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), a student-run organisation that coordinates peaceful protests, and forcefully closed their offices.

With the security forces entrenched and Jokowi’s power limited, many fear that the divide between the two sides is growing. Papuans know that the April elections are unlikely to change anything.

Gaining momentum

However, instead of waiting and hoping for action from Jakarta, more West Papuans are starting to agitate on local, national and global stages. In 2014, several West Papua independence organisations unified under the banner of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), headed by the renowned Papuan activist Benny Wenda. The entity has been active within the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group within it, which counts the four Melanesian nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, as members.

“In 2015, the ULMWP put in an application bid for a membership of observer status,” says Kareni. The bid was successful. “For Papuans it was a recognition of our cause. The movement has gained a lot of momentum, especially in the Pacific.”

In 2017, organisers in West Papua undertook an impressive effort, smuggling a petition across the island and collecting signatures from 1.8 million residents – 70 per cent of the population – in support of an independence referendum, as promised in the 1960s. The petition was delivered to the United Nation’s Special Committee on Decolonization, to which Indonesia responded by arresting Yanto Awerkion, a KNPB activist and organiser of the petition drive, and sentencing him to 10 months in prison.

One small opportunity to shine a light on the human rights abuses taking place in West Papua came when a UN human rights panel issued a statement condemning racism and police violence in the region, resulting in a rare apology from the Indonesian police for one incident in particular.

There is also hope in the expression by the Indonesian foreign ministry that it will allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua. However, civil society are skeptical that the UN visit, if it takes place, will result in concrete changes.

“It is not new,” says Harsono, referring to previous invites that were not followed up with visas or details. “I won’t believe it until I meet them in Jayapura, until I see them in Papua.”

Meanwhile the election campaign is gathering steam, with the Nduga incident becoming a campaign issue, spurring increased nationalist sentiment against West Papuans. Unfortunately, there may be little that either Jokowi or his opponent – former military general Prabowo Subianto, who has a checkered record due to his involvement in East Timor – can do to change the plight of Papua.

“Whoever the president is, he will be in a difficult position since all political forces in Indonesia, whether the nationalist, the military or Islamic groups, seem to be reluctant to address the human rights issue,” says Ruhyanto. “It remains a marginal topic that only concerns a handful of activists and academics.” (*)

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on social and economic issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in south-east Asia.

 

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Analysis

Military approach questioned as violence worsens in Papua

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Indonesian National Armed Forces carrying a coffin of a fallen fellow soldier. Three Indonesian soldiers were reportedly killed by the West Papuan Liberation Army in Nduga regency on March 7th, 2019. – Photo: Tempo

Papua, Jubi – As the numbers of casualties and displaced people in Papua’s Highlands pile up, prospects for an end to armed conflict in the Indonesian-ruled region appear dim.

Humanitarian concern is growing for villagers who have been displaced by conflict in the Highlands between Indonesia’s military and the West Papua Liberation Army.

But even elected Papuan leaders in government pushing for a de-escalation of military operations risk a reprimand or threat of prosecution from Indonesia’s military.

In the latest bout of clashes yesterday, Indonesia’s military said between 50 and 70 Liberation Army fighters descended on soldiers guarding the construction of a bridge in Nduga’s Yigi district.

Indonesia’s military said three members died before the military was able to drive the rebels back. It also claimed that between seven and ten Liberation Army fighters were killed.

According to the Liberation Army, the violence on Thursday was sparked when Indonesian soldiers interrogated a local villager and then set fire to five houses.

Indonesian military and police operations intensified in the remote Highlands regency of Nduga in December after the Liberation Army massacred at least 16 road construction workers.

The Indonesian government’s major Trans-Papua Road project was already controversial among Papuan Highlands communities without the involvement of military engineers on the job adding to mistrust among Papuans.

However as military operations to pursue the Liberation Army’s guerilla fighters ramped up, thousands of Nduga villagers caught in the middle of hostilities fled to the bush or neighbouring regencies such as Jayawijaya.

An Indonesian academic, Hipolitus YR Wangge of Jakarta’s Marthinus Academy, has been working on research in Papua and found himself volunteering help for Nduga’s refugees streaming into Jayawijaya’s main town of Wamena.

He said the people were traumatised and short on basic needs, having come from a regency which is extremely isolated. According to him, over two thousand Nduga people have sought refuge in the Wamena area, including over six hundred children.

“Those refugees are coming down from the jungle, from Nduga, and they have nothing here, even the local (Jayawijaya) government here say ‘these are not our people, these are not Jayawijaya people, it is Nduga regency people, so let their government deal with this one’,” he said.

“On the other hand, Nduga’s government, their focus is mainly on those Nduga people who are running away and staying in the (local) jungle.”

The impact of displacement was also seen by Peter Prove, a member of a delegation from the World Council of Churches which was last month permitted to visit Papua.

“And in particular in Wamena we met with a group of more than 400 children and adolescents who were displaced, and who were being provided with refuge in the compound of the Roman Catholic Church there,” he explained.

“And we heard very alarming stories about the circumstances under which they had fled from their territory, including indications of a very strong-armed military response.”

An emergency makeshift school was established by volunteer groups in Wamena for the displaced children. However last month when Indonesian military and police personnel came to the school, a number of children reportedly ran away in fear.

Concerned for the displaced communities, governor of Papua, Lukas Enembe, recently called for Indonesia’s president to withdraw troops to allow villagers to return home and access basic needs.

His call was echoed by local parliamentarians, customary leaders, church and civil society organisations who continue to press for a de-escalation of military operations in the region.

However Indonesia’s military spokesman in Papua, Colonel Muhammad Aidi, has warned that the governor had violated state law and should be prosecuted.

“A governor is an extension of the state in the region and is obliged to defend the sovereignty of the republic of Indonesia,” Colonel Aidi explained.

“A governor must support all national strategic programs. But on the contrary the governor through his statement actually inhibited the national development process.”

A West Papuan anthropologist based in Australia, Yamin Kogoya, worries that telling the truth in his homeland has become an act of treason.

He said that by practically labelling Governor Enembe a supporter of the Free West Papua Movement, Colonel Aidi had added to the sense of threat over this leading elected official who is already being investigated by Indonesian anti-corrution investigators.

“This is a very, very harsh statement by the military spokesperson in Papua against the governor of Papua province who has every right to express his concerns and worries about the welfare of the people under his care,” Mr Kogoya said.

“He never, ever expressed publicly that he supports the independence of Papua.”

Following the Liberation Army’s massacre of road construction workers, the chairman of the Papua People’s Assembly, Timotius Murib, said he and his colleagues condemned the violence. He added that security approaches rarely helped in Papua.

“This does not solve the problem in Papua, but instead creates human rights violations and trauma for indigenous Papuans,” Mr Munib said.

Indonesian police and military posts are common in every town and most villages throughout Papua. From his observations in the region, Peter Prove said the increasing militarisation and security approach in Papua had only exacerbated the problems there.

“There are many accusations and counter-accusations as to who is responsible for specific instances of violence. But I think the military approach to securing and stabilising the territory evidently hasn’t worked not in terms of improving the human rights situation in the region.”

Armed conflict between the Liberation Army and Indonesian security forces is mainly confined to the Highlands region. The Papuan guerillas are outnumbered and outgunned by Indonesia’s military forces, yet are also difficult to totally defeat, as they easily move in and out of the bush in their rugged home terrain.

But the presence of Indonesia’s military, special forces, police, and intelligence agents throughout Papua have added to a climate of fear for Papuans.

According to Mr Wangge, the Indonesian government appears to favour the security approach as the most effective way of containing Papuan resistance, even though it does not win hearts and minds of Papuans.

He said that Jakarta had long since identified core problems in Papua – related to historical grievances, politics, human rights abuses and economic development. But apart from its promotion of economic development through its major infrastructure drive, Mr Wangge said the government had not openly addressed these core problems in a wholehearted way that involved Papuan participation.

While it was difficult to pinpoint why the problems hadn’t been confronted Mr Wangge said the military was still a powerful political entity within the Indonesian republic.

“If human rights or historical problems will be discussed both by central and local governments, the military will face some legal consequences for this one,” he said.

Mr Wangge, who has been involved with efforts to build temporary schools for the children displaced in Wamena, was doubtful whether President Joko Widodo’s economic development approach was a lasting solution either for Papuans’ grievances.

“To some point, yes, it can benefit some Papuans,” he said, “but the benefits of the economic approach, it’s only for outsiders, non-Papuans, immigrants – that’s how many Papuans see it.”

This was echoed by Mr Murib, who said “we as state institutions that are representatives of indigenous Papuans have never been involved in discussing the Trans Papua road project”.

“Papuans are eliminated from their own land, lose their rights as indigenous people and face depopulation problems. Papuans want life, not roads and companies.”

He said if the central government respected Papua’s Autonomy Law, and indigenous Papuans, it should “sit down to talk with us for all forms of policy in Papua”.

Meanwhile, Colonel Aidi has confirmed an extra 600 military personnel have been deployed to Nduga region to secure conditions for construction of the Trans Papua road to proceed.

Since December, dozens of people have died in escalating clashes in Nduga. The Liberation Army has indicated it was willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but Colonel Aidi suggested this would be not be possible.

“The aim of Indonesia’s military is to preserve the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia. If the purpose of the “armed criminal group” is to be independent from Indonesia, surely the dialogue or negotiation will never be realised.”

Armed conflict continues in Papua, intractable as ever. (Johnny Blades Johnny Blades, RNZ Pacific)

 

 

Source: RNZ Pasific

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