Tuesday, July 14, 2009
A Mystery Too Many In Papua
As Indonesia's easternmost province thousands of kilometers away from the nation's capital Jakarta, Papua is a land full of mystery that baffles but attracts many outsiders. The thick and dense tropical rainforest that covers most of the rugged and mountainous province hides not only many secrets but also inexplicable events.
One of these unfortunately is a series of tragic fatal incidents. The death of three people in a shootout near the giant gold and copper mining operation in Timika at the weekend is another event which, going by history, will thicken the mysterious cloud above Papua. An investigation is now underway for the killing of an expatriate employee, a local security guard for the American mining company PT Freeport Indonesia and a police officer. The
military has reportedly rounded up a number of people associated with a separatist rebel movement, although officials admitted that they could not have been anywhere near the incident to have been able to conduct the shooting.
The incident took place near the Mile 51 area where seven Freeport employees, including two Americans who taught at a Timika school, were killed in 2002. Although some local Papuans have been sentenced to jail for this ambush killing, the case has not been resolved fully with many questions remaining unanswered to this day. Because it is one of the furthest flung provinces in Indonesia ( flight takes seven hours from Jakarta), it is hard for the people in the capital to understand this resource and culturally rich, but underdeveloped part of the nation.
But the attitude and policy of the central government prove to be the greatest obstacle. It is difficult to avoid getting the impression that Jakarta is deliberately making it impossible for anyone to obtain accurate information about Papua. Besides Jayapura and one or two other major towns, the rest of the province is effectively off-limits to journalists. They need to have permission, known as surat jalan, issued by the local military just to move around, which is justified by the old pretext of ensuring their safety. For foreign journalists and
scholars, Papua is completely barred.
It is questionable whether the low level intensity of guerilla warfare by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) justifies the strong military presence in the area. If anything, the tight security measures imposed are at the expense of greater transparency. The tight security blanket confirms the suspicion of many international human rights groups that the government is hiding something.
Others speculate that the tensions and conflicts in Papua are a manifestation of the rivalries and interests of different government agencies in Jakarta, including the state intelligence, the police, the military and the business world. Whether this is true or not is no longer relevant because that image has been implanted firmly thanks to the government's own policy.
The Indonesian government and military have not learned the bitter lessons of East Timor in the 1990s when the policy of closing off the territory to outsiders came back to haunt them with unnecessary speculations about what was really happening there. In East Timor, the government lost the propaganda war and eventually the territory itself. God forbid, this should be the fate of Papua.
A more open and transparent policy in Papua, even with its consequences to the security situation, is by far still the better option to pursue. Let's hope the investigation of the latest shooting will be conducted in that spirit, for the sake of establishing justice for the victims, but more importantly for justice of the people of Papua.
The Jakarta Post