Thursday, January 7, 2010

An Aceh Solution for Papua’s Woes

The government takes pride in depicting the Aceh peace process as a model of peaceful resolution that can be applied to similar conflicts around the world. We might ask, then: Can the same be reproduced in the province of Papua?

The Helsinki Agreement that ended Aceh’s fighting in 2005 was a win-win solution for the parent state and the rebel group for two reasons: the province of Aceh remained an integral part of a united Indonesia; and the Acehnese people were given some exclusive political and economic privileges not enjoyed in other provinces. For instance, the Acehnese are allowed to have local political parties and are entitled to a huge proportion of the benefits gained from the exploitation of their natural resources.

Despite some minor security disturbances, the process of peace building has become a commonly accepted norm.

The death of Kelly Kwalik, the Papuan independence leader who was shot in a police raid last month, has at best produced mixed feelings for the government. On the one hand there is a sense of a mission accomplished on the part of the police, who rid themselves of a freedom fighter who led the rebel Free Papua Movement (OPM) over the last 30 years. But on the other hand, there is a fear that Kwalik’s name will be used as a symbol of struggle by followers who otherwise would remain uncoordinated and fragmented. The emergence of a hero in any secessionist movement normally emboldens it to go on to accomplish its political goals.

With its abundant natural resources, Papua, like Aceh before it, has become a powerless victim of the “resource curse.” Competition over control of natural resources has led to a protracted conflict, one with no sign of ending soon. The presence of the US enterprise Freeport McMoRan, which operates a huge gold and copper mine north of Timika, has always been a source of dispute for the conflicting parties. There is also the allegation that the security situation is very often manipulated in order to increase economic appropriation for irresponsible parties.
Sometimes the police and military produce conflicting reports about the security conditions, resulting in significant public confusion about what exactly constitutes a security threat in Papua.

With the sheer absence of any governmental supervision or scrutiny from civil society watchdogs, nobody really knows the situation on the ground in the Papuan interior. It is difficult to verify the validity of reports that reach the table of policy makers in Jakarta. What is certain is that whenever the rules of the game are unclear, it is always those in power who determine the final outcome. It is true that there have been some security disturbances around Timika but at the same time, corruption and human rights abuses are also rampant.

The protracted nature of the Papuan conflict is something of an anomaly in the study of internal conflicts. Normally when the parent state has reached the position of a consolidated democracy, there is a high probability of peaceful conflict resolution in the renegade provinces. For instance, the independence of East Timor and peace building in Aceh could only take place after Indonesia embraced democracy and the principles of human rights following the collapse of Suharto’s authoritarian regime.

The government has much to learn from conflict resolution in Aceh, chiefly the fact that a military approach will never produce sustainable peace. Not only will it incite increased violence in Papua, but the resulting reports of human rights abuses will continue to tarnish the nation’s image abroad as a successful example of political reform.

There is no reason why President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should hesitate to apply the “Aceh” approach in resolving the conflict in Papua. Special-autonomy status has not produced the desired results because the central government is still reluctant to loosen its political and economic control over Papua. Thus, there is no genuine sincerity to let the Papuans themselves decide what is best for their political and economic development. It is true that more and more Papuans hold prominent positions in local government bureaucracies, but Jakarta still has the final say in making strategic decisions in politics and economy.

The death of Kwalik will not end the history of separatist movements in Papua. On the contrary, there is a high probability that it will trigger new waves of antigovernment protests that will ultimately lead to an escalation of violence. With all his democratic credentials, Yudhoyono should have enough political courage to make a breakthrough by initiating peace talks with the rebel group.

If the concept of self-government can be made workable in Aceh, why not in Papua? That is the only way to preserve the unitary state while at the same time allowing the Papuans to live according to the principles and values they hold dear. After all, a united Indonesia is not an end in itself. It is just a means within which all elements of the nation should seek their prosperity. By Aleksius Jemadu is acting dean of the School of Social and Political Sciences at Pelita Harapan University.

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