Balanced View of Papua

Sep 16th, 2006, in News, by

A report by the International Crisis Group suggests the situation in Papua is not as dire as some, often Australians, like to believe.

As an Australian television crew are deported from Indonesia for attempting to enter Papua on tourist visas, and as television advertisements attacking Indonesia’s role in West Papua are to be screened in Australia shortly, the report from the ICG comes in a typically timely fashion.

The report is arranged in a question and answer format and begins:

No part of Indonesia generates as much distorted reporting as Papua, the western half of New Guinea that has been home to an independence movement since the 1960s.

On the one side there are those who

..paint a picture of a closed killing field where the Indonesian army, backed by militia forces, perpetrates genocide against a defenceless people struggling for freedom. …..army and multinational companies joining forces to despoil Papua and rob it of its own resources.

On the other side, in Indonesia, there is the belief that Papua is:

…the target of machinations by Western interests, bent on bringing about an East Timor-style international intervention that will further divide and weaken the Indonesian nation.

But the ICG says that neither portrayal is correct.

The Questions:

Who governs Papua?

Most government positions within Papua are held by native Papuans, and these leaders are independent of Jakarta, given the effects of the Regional Autonomy Law of 2004.

Is the TNI the real power?

No, the police are more influential in local government decisions.

Are TNI numbers increasing, and if so, why?

There are 12,000 troops in Papua and about 2,250 police Mobile Brigade men. The numbers are increasing but units withdrawn from Aceh are not being sent to Papua.

Part of the reason why troop numbers have gone up and will keep going up in the future is a result of changes in administrative boundaries and border security concerns.

Did Indonesia cheat on Papua’s integration in the sixties?

Indonesia rigged the 1969 plebiscite but there is no hope for Papua to gain support at the United Nations for independence now.

How strong is the independence movement in Papua?

There is much pro-independence sentiment among the people, especially on the north coast and in the highlands.

The military arm of the independence movement, the National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional), of the OPM is small and insignificant, but has some active support from villagers.

Is there genocide?

No, but severe human rights abuses and war crimes did and do occur. The government no longer supports transmigration of Indonesians to Papua, but informal migration does still occur on a large scale.

Post Soeharto governments have attempted to redress Papuan grievances but military officers still get away with murder, literally and metaphorically.

Are there jihadists in Papua? Is Islamicisation happening?

Not really. The Laskar Jihad had several hundred men in Sorong in 2001 but it disbanded in 2002. The Jemaah Tabligh, a fundamentalist dakwah/missionary group, has been in Papua since 1998. The Hidaytullah Islamic school network, based in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, is particularly active in Papua, with schools in Merauke, Wamena and Jayapura.

Immigration means there are more Muslims in Papua but proselytisation programs run by Islamic groups are far less influential than those run by evangelical Christian groups.

How much of Papua is off-limits to outsiders?

Access to Papua is restricted but not completely denied. Tourists may travel relatively freely, but there are tight restrictions on the entry of foreign journalists and NGOs.


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