Saturday, April 10, 2010

Papua 'Ready to Explode'

INDONESIAN Papua risks erupting in bloodshed, with huge loss of life and disastrous consequences for Indonesia and Australia, a new book warns. The book, by respected Australian academics, says Indonesian and international leadership is essential to avert catastrophe and end almost 50 years of conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. It says Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has failed to stand up to his generals who foment the conflict, while Canberra's diplomacy has been ''insipid'', despite the potential consequences for Australia.

''Unless there's a positive approach to dialogue, it's a matter of when, not if, an eruption of violence occurs,'' Professor John Braithwaite, who led the research behind the book, told The Sunday Age. The book, Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and reconciliation in Indonesian peacebuilding, characterises conditions in West Papua and Papua provinces as a ''dangerous calm'', with repression and exploitation feeding deep resentment and alienation among indigenous people. The repression includes torture, rape and sexual mutilation so gruesome that the academics agonised over publishing details. The extent of repression has not changed, despite the democratic transformation of Indonesia since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998 and local autonomy promised to Papuans in 2001.

The ANU academics contrast Dr Yudhoyono's failure to to deal with the Papua conflict with his successful role in ending other internal conflicts, especially in Aceh. They warn of growing Papuan support for armed conflict to wrest independence from Jakarta, which won control of the territory in 1969 after what is is now widely acknowledged as a fraudulent vote. Drawing on research in Papua, they say many young highlanders declare they are ready to die, while members of the pro-independence Free Papua Organisation, the OPM, see no option but to take up arms.

They quote an OPM fighter saying the organisation hoped to provoke a ''Super Santa Cruz'' to draw international attention to their cause - a reference to the Indonesian army massacre in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991, a decisive event in East Timor's independence struggle. An eruption of violence would likely result in an exodus of refugees to Australia, creating a crisis in relations between Jakarta and Canberra. Such a scenario would be a ''lose-lose-lose'' situation for Dr Yudhoyono, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the people of Papua, ''who would suffer untold loss of life and liberty''.

While the OPM is militarily ineffective, it had the capacity to ''kill a lot of Indonesian soldiers and police in the highlands'', triggering massive retaliation. Only ''visionary preventive diplomacy'' can prevent renewed war, the book warns. This should involve Jakarta, Canberra, Washington, the EU and church and other groups in Papua in promoting a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

While Dr Yudhoyono is a ''decent man and a peacebuilder'', he was unwilling to stand up to ''homicidal elements'' in the military most responsible for the conflict. Nor was the international community willing to show leadership. ''Australian diplomacy has been especially insipid in this regard,'' the book says. Professor Braithwaite said Australian diplomats seemed unwilling to confront the potential disaster on Australia's doorstep. ''It's terribly depressing that Australian diplomacy has been so feeble,'' he said.

There was, however, pressure from sections of the US Congress, leading to the prospect of President Barack Obama raising the issue when he visits Jakarta in June. ''This is a great opportunity for Obama and Yudhoyono to do great things together,'' Professor Braithwaite said. By Tom HylandTOM The Age (Melbourne)

Note from Kerry. My new book, “The Papuan – When Australia and Indonesia again go to War” will be released in 2011.

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