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Indonesia's Papua: Of roads and road maps

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COMMENTS

23 March 2010 12:44

Jim Della-Giacoma is the South East Asia Project Director of International Crisis Group.

It seems to be unpleasant for some to digest that the Free Papua Movement (OPM) was most likely involved in the string of attacks near the Freeport mine road in Indonesia's easternmost province. But by their very nature, armed groups are committed to violence and killing people.

It causes further discomfort to learn that political activists from one militant group, the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), were active in getting out the message for OPM.

OPM acknowledged responsibility for some of the shootings and other attacks between July 2009 and January 2010 along the main road that links the mountain-top mine with its sea port, although it denied shooting dead an Australian mine worker. The evidence is not conclusive, although the case for the involvement of the late guerrilla leader Kelly Kwalik and his men is stronger than for any of the alternatives on offer.

As indicated by group of Jayapura-based students who spoke to ICG for our recent report on Papua, foreign NGOs might be sceptical but Papuan activists are open to the possibility that OPM staged these attacks: 'The OPM is the military wing, right? Their job is to shoot the enemy. Freeport and the security forces are the enemy. So it fits that OPM would attack them.' Military strategists would probably agree — the lone road that links the mine with the sea is also a good place for an ambush.

The mining road attacks have attracted the most international attention, because so many, inside and outside Papua, are convinced the Indonesian military is responsible, largely on the basis of the arms and the ammunition used and the alleged professionalism of the shooters. In fact, it is well known that from Sabang in the west to Merauke in the east, criminal activities in Indonesia often involve government-made weapons and munitions.

If it were true that the military is the culprit, the case on the Papuan side for rejecting dialogue with the Indonesian Government because of the abusive nature of one of its key institutions would be strengthened. But if the Papuan guerrillas are responsible, the attacks could be seen as a way of raising the stakes in any future negotiations.

Finding the truth is thus critical, but no one should lose sight of the larger issue, which is finding a just, practical and non-violent solution to the conflict. Those who want to help Papua need to focus on the political calculus at work in Indonesia. The so-called 'Papua Road Map' dialogue offers the best chance to address political and historical grievances (not just economic inequities) in a comprehensive way.

President Yudhoyono has reportedly expressed interest in opening a dialogue with Papuan representatives but he has to do more than passively back it – he has to get out front and preempt some of the paranoid nationalists in government ranks who equate dialogue with capitulation to separatists. No one is suggesting that following the Road Map will be easy, and it also carries risks: a poorly prepared dialogue that breaks down amid recriminations of bad faith could be worse than no dialogue at all.
 
In the end, though, there is a serious political bottom line for Jakarta to consider: if Indonesia wants to keep Papua a domestic issue, it needs to back this homegrown initiative. To ignore it or allow it to get lost along the way will see the real problems of Papua unresolved and give undesirable, and possibly violent, radicalism the right of way, with more international attention to follow.

In the meantime, it would be better for all if Papua were opened up for proper investigations and this province treated less like it contains something to hide.

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