Papua, Denial and Lessons from East Timor and Aceh

Editorial Omong-Omong

4 min read

President Joko Widodo just opened the National Sports Week (PON) in Papua over the weekend as the nation is trying to show the world how the province is very much part of Indonesia. As if conveying that the province can hold a national sports event peacefully and the Papuan residents are eagerly participating, Indonesia is trying to convince there is nothing wrong with its province.

But behind Jokowi’s back his advisors of former military generals and military leadership deployed hundreds and hundreds more troops to the country’s western most territory leading to this sports event.

In fact, as if fighting a big war, Jakarta has been increasing number of troops in Papua in the last few years, using all occasion from cultural and sports events, like this sports week, to deadly incidents, such as the killing of soldiers and officers, and designating Free Papua Movement or OPM, a rebel Papuan group fighting for Papua’s independence, as a terrorist group, to justify the deployment of more military personnel.

While it is impossible to verify the exact number of military and police personnel deployed in the province, reports from various media suggested that tens of thousands soldiers have arrived in Papua on the pretext of securing the province from the possible attacks of OPM.

The fact is that Indonesia keeps number of soldiers relatively much higher in Papua than in any provinces across its territory. This fact alone has signed that it’s not all right in there. Why should put more soldiers if everything is all right?

The joint report from several civil society groups has highlighted that the main goal of the soldiers deployed there is actually not to fight a battle against the rebel group but to protect the interests of generals and elites in Jakarta in mining sites. The report finds that many Army and police generals who helped Jokowi win the presidency are involved in the mining companies exploring and exploiting the Wabu Block, known as the mount of gold, as owner or commissioner and that they deployed the soldiers guard the mining site and scare away the native in the surrounding of the site so that there will be no rejection once they start digging.

Another proof that there has been something really wrong in Papua is that it’s very difficult to enter the province. Even for Indonesians, who want to travel to certain areas, have been prohibited to enter. For foreigners, even for tourists, let alone activists and journalists, it’s practically impossible to enter many places in Papua, and once you get out of the airport, you will be watched and followed closely.

Why should prevent people from freely explore Papua if there has been nothing to hide?

In the past few years the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ONHCR) repeatedly requested access, and Jakarta has reportedly broadly agreed, however a visit is yet to materialize.

Also, how can Jakarta cover up from the eyes of the world a range of ugly facts, like civilian casualties caught in the crossfire, arbitrary arrests of activists, extrajudicial killings, displacements of entire villages, high-level corruption, sparse economic development, rigged local elections, and oppressive police and military personnel?

In the aftermath of designating the OPM, as a terrorist organization number of military personnel deployed in Papua has jumped, while more activists have been arrested, local journalists are intimidated, and in many occasions internet access was briefly cut in Jayapura, the province’s biggest city.

To show that international community is now losing its patience, even UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has singled out Indonesia’s massive human rights violation in Papua.

Despite all these facts, Indonesia has been playing dump, denying all accusation that there has been many things wrong in Papua. This denial game will prove grave blunder for Indonesia because how can you fix something if you don’t admit there is something wrong with it? Without admitting something really wrong in Papua, the nation will be stuck with the status quo as Jakarta believe nothing should be done.

If the status quo persists than it is just a matter of time before it explodes into a situation similar to what happened in East Timor or Aceh. Unfortunately, the situation surrounding Papua will be more like East Timor than Aceh. The pressure to release Papua will be even higher than East Timor because Papua is bigger and owns much more natural resources. So, more people want to get a piece of Papua.

As we learn from East Timor, of course international community will not directly ask for Indonesia to free Papua. They will begin with presenting the facts of Indonesia’s wrongdoing in Papua, then as pressure escalates it comes to a push for self-determination. And we know how the story will continue.

In the case of Aceh, Indonesia is fortunate because international community would not want an unstable Muslim-majority right in the gate of one of the world’s busiest trade lane. If Aceh was not Muslim-majority area, and the story would have been very different.

Indonesia then has enough experiences to know that it can’t play around when it comes to separatism and international pressure. The nation has been humiliated in East Timor and it could narrowly escape from giving Aceh its independence.

So, the military leadership should know better that deploying more troops will only not wither uprising, and only lead to a worsening condition and hardening rebellion.

If they know what will be the end conclusion, why push for military operation?

The answer is greed and greediness. Some military generals probably know that Papua will ultimately gain its independence, and they just want to use the remaining time to enrich themselves, like what we have seen in the case of Wabu in Intan Jaya.

As highlighted in previous article, Indonesia will likely be forced to give up Papua if it does not drastically change its approach in the territory, especially reducing the number of military personnel to a normal level and be transparent about what has been happening there while allowing international team and visitors to freely enter Papua.

But as we have detailed in the beginning of this article, it will be too much to ask. Instead of reducing the number of troops are increasing.

The Papua can probably be retained if Indonesia can sacrifice its dignity by becoming a satellite state of the US and Australia, and antagonizing China in the heating rivalry of the two camps in Southeast Asia. Support of US and Australia for Papua will be traded with Indonesia’s unreserved support for US and Australia against China.

But then again we end up being a dependent nation rather than a proud independent country. Are Indonesian people ready and willing to pay for such an unbearably high price?

Editorial Omong-Omong

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