IRIAN JAYA - by Dr Greg PoulgrainNews Weekly
Can Indonesia head off push for Papuan independence?
, March 11, 2000
A new government in Jakarta is attempting to deal constructively with regional hotspots. Dr Greg Poulgrain, recently returned from Irian Jaya, found a newfound confidence among the indigenous Papuans, a more flexible official approach and a few shadows lurking in the background.
Jakarta's proposed political reform for the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, renamed Papua by President Abdurrahman Wahid, is intended to mollify the popular demand for independence. The central government is promising "greater autonomy" for Papua.
Comprising one quarter of the total land area of the entire Republic of Indonesia, this is the largest province, and with its abundance of natural resources it is also the richest. Given the current monetary crisis facing Indonesia, and the IMF assistance in excess of US$40 billion, the revenue from the largest and richest province plays an integral part in Jakarta's anticipated economic recovery.
IMF assistance, however, is contingent upon political stability and reform. UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in Jakarta last week reiterated this message in a speech delivered to the Indonesian Council of World Affairs.
On the subject of separatist movements (Papua and Aceh being the two most prominent), Kofi Annan cautioned Indonesia saying that these separatist movements are political movements and as such require political solutions. Autonomy will mean that Papua will receive four times the revenue it did under the Suharto regime, and the regional administration will be responsible for disbursement of this increased funding. But Jakarta will remain the ultimate arbiter of political events in Papua.
Autonomy falls a long way short of any federated structure, which Jakarta vehemently opposes. Nor does it countenance any talk of independence. Why is it that Jakarta's proposal to introduce "greater autonomy" does not have widespread support from the Papuan people?
Autonomy has been offered twice before (under President Suharto) since the 1960s when Indonesia first acquired the territory. What ensued was only more suffering for the Papuan people. The death toll (directly by shooting and bombing, and indirectly by disease and starvation), according to a US Senator who informed the Congress in 1998, is as high as 300,000 Papuans - even higher than in East Timor!
Some Papuan leaders are willing to accept autonomy, perhaps as a temporary step to avoid further bloodshed. Others are insisting on immediate independence but arguably - because of sinister developments now taking shape in Papua - this demand runs the risk of a militia-inspired tragedy as occurred in East Timor.
In the same way that the post-Suharto Jakarta government had difficulty in implementing its rule in East Timor while the military there were dominant - a situation which led to army/militia brutalities in East Timor - the situation in Papua is now similar, but with a twist.
The Papuan militia are pro-independence not anti-independence, as they were in Timor, but one source of funding is the same.
The likely cause for violence to break out - as it did in Merauke last month - will be the result of violent action by pro-independence Papuan militia and an even more violent reaction by the Indonesian military.
Even though the reformist government of Abdurrahman Wahid might seem to have curbed the Indonesian army recently when General Wiranto resigned, many military in Papua regard themselves as still beyond the reach of Jakarta.
One has only to see how blatantly the army trucks in Jayapura drive to the port carrying fully-armed personnel and fully-loaded with freshly-sawn timber for export. And one must ask - from a report from Papua late last month - why the army is now in the process of deploying many more troops in all regions throughout the province. The crisis in Papua is rapidly approaching.
Who are these Papuan militia? Platoons, wearing black-shirts and wielding sticks as makeshift rifles and the Papuan morning-star flag as the sign of the future, march up and down the street in apparent defiance of Indonesian army and police.
The new phenomenon of a Papuan militia is centred around Theys Eluay, a traditional chief from Lake Sentani adjoining the capital city, Jayapura. He is the most vocal and visible leader demanding immediate change. His following is mainly from coastal regions in the north and south, rather than the highlands.
When Mr Eluay arrived in Jayapura from Jakarta, at Sentani airport there were 80 black-shirts as a guard of honour. In early February, when he was in court for his part in organising the December flag-raising, there were hundreds of black-shirts present. And even though many other Papuans are still in prison for flag-raising incidents in the past, the fact that Theys Eluay was not imprisoned has raised him in the eyes of many pro-independence supporters as being the man to lead them to the promised land of freedom.
Rather than Theys Eluay himself, it is the Jakarta-based funding for these militia that is the real danger. As his representative on the Irian Jaya Tribal Council in Jakarta, Theys Eleay has appointed Yorrys Raweyai, despite the close links this Papuan-Chinese has with both Tomi and Bambang Suharto, sons of the former president. Yorrys Raweyai's involvement with the youth group known as 'pemuda pancasila' has been publicly acknowledged, and Yorrys has been linked to the funding of militia in Timor as well as provocation and conflict in Ambon.
Theys Eluay continues to use this source of funding because he believes that Yorrys is pro-independence, and because the money is helping Eluay's chances of becoming the leader of a newly-independent Papua.
"The formation of a people's militia was originally the idea of Papuan people themselves," explained John Rumbiak, a US-trained Papuan activist who heads a human rights group in Jayapura, "but this has now been commandeered by Yorrys".
There is potential for disagreement between coastal and highland Papuans because Theys' funding has added considerably to his coastal status but not his credibility in the highlands. There is also potential for disagreement between pro-independence Papuan militia and non-Papuan transmigrants, either government-sponsored or self-sponsored immigrants mainly from Java or Sulawesi.
If rioting, conflict and more killings occur, as it has already in Merauke, Sorong, and Nabire - that is, most places except the capital city, Jayapura, where the defiance of the black-shirts with their sticks could easily lead (or be led) into large-scale rioting - widespread intervention by the Indonesian military will only be a matter of time.
If Jakarta's proposal for autonomy leads to conflict, the path taken by the militia - perhaps unwittingly - will be influenced by its source of funding.
The Indonesian military - now and in the past - have most difficulty in controlling the Papuans in the highlands where more than half a million indigenous people live. It remains a cultural stronghold. The main urban centre, Wamena, was completely filled last month with tens of thousands of protesters. This event was not marred by violence, despite the fact that the Indonesian army and air force have a murderous record in suppressing highland tribespeople over the last three decades.
In some of the large fertile valleys, the first contact with the Indonesian armed forces was in 1977 when four Bronco aircraft, each equipped with multiple machine guns and armed with bombs, were were used against village people.
During a visit to the region one month ago, I saw several reminders of that terrible time. An unexploded bomb half a metre long, apparently retrieved from the ground where it dropped, was strung up with wire and hanging from a building. Another example was a hut, twelve metres by five, where a machine gun at the door had killed Papuan men and women who had been brought there from surrounding villages. Thousands of people disappeared in that area. The mass burial sites there require UN forensic teams to investigate.
The new government in Jakarta is in the process of dismantling the unrestricted militarism of the Suharto era. In Irian Jaya/Papua, this task is especially difficult as army business operations provide an important source of army funding. The name-change by President Abdurrahman Wahid had Papuan separatism in mind, but also the main opponents of political reform still in this territory - the Indonesian army.
Papuans will accept autonomy only if the army is removed, but given the strength of both resurgent nationalism and the remnant Indonesian army in Papua, is the militia-option again the one to which Jakarta and the UN now turn a blind eye?