|Bird of Paradise papua (photo illust)|
Thirteen years ago today, Papua’s “Team 100” was invited by then president BJ Habibie to hold a national dialogue to discuss the Papua issue at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.
It was no ordinary event. On the contrary, it was an extraordinary gathering of Papua’s leaders prompted by a widespread call for independence in the nation’s easternmost province.
It was marked by public demonstrations and the raising of the Papuan flag in a several cities.
All of this met with a harsh response from security forces. All of this occurred in the wake of the euphoria of Indonesia’s transition to democracy.
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During the meeting 13 years ago, Team 100 leader Tom Beanal bluntly expressed Papuans’ desire to form an independent state separate from Indonesia.
This unexpected call shocked Habibie, as well as his Cabinet, who responded by asking Tom to return home and think things over.
It must be underlined that none of Team 100 were arrested or charged with treason, as is now happening with the president of the so-called Federal Republic of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, and four of his followers who are being tried for alleged treason and are facing life imprisonment.
Thirteen years on, Papua’s cry for dialogue remains loud. In response, the Yudhoyono administration has held private and formal meetings with Papuan church leaders twice.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also appointed two special representatives, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bambang Darmono and Dr. Farid Hussain, to address the issue of dialogue through different mechanisms.
What next in the last two years of Yudhoyono’s presidency? What can we expect as follow up? Will we see political negotiations, as we have seen in Aceh? All these questions remain unanswered.
As we know, dialogue is not the only game in town. Some Papuans do not share this view and have publicly expressed their determination to pursue international legal mediation to bring independence to Papuan.
However, it remains unclear to the public how this option could be achieved. Others have been advocating for Indonesia to recognize the sovereign state of Papua.
These advocates have been charged with treason and now are standing trial.
In daily life, we are confronted with other questions that. For instance, what will happen when Papua finally holds its long-delayed gubernatorial election?
Can the continuing violence in Papua’s highlands and the area near PT Freeport Indonesia’s operations be terminated?
The violence in those areas have caused a lot of tension, damage and deaths that urgently need to be addressed.
On the government side, we also observe a number of different interpretations on how to conduct a dialogue.
One approach holds that the dialog should be about Papua and not between Jakarta and Papua, as proposed by many voices in Papua. The logic of this argument is that Papua is part of Indonesia.
So the polarization of Jakarta and Papua will not help solve the problem. Rather, all stakeholders in Papua should have an equal opportunity to discuss the fate of Papua.
Following the Aceh model, other proponents argue that negotiations should be bipartisan, involving representatives from the Indonesian government and their Papuan counterparts. But this approach still augurs the question of who Papua’s representatives are and whether Papuans can be united.
Another approach asserts limits on any negotiations on the territorial integrity of Indonesia while preparing to offer a wide range of concessions, including granting amnesty for political prisoners, reviewing the 1969 Act of Free Choice, addressing human rights abuses and reviewing the implementation of special autonomy for Papua.
The last approach co-opts the whole point of dialogue by creating parallel events to discuss the same issues, albeit infused with completely different notions.
In the long run this may cause distraction and confusion if negotiations between Jakarta and Papua are realized.
Obviously, for the government, a Papuan dialogue is not the only game in town either. The Yudhoyono administration confronts many equally pressing issues, such as its energy policy, which has already sparked strong opposition from political opponents.
Meanwhile, unresolved corruption scandals continue to undermine the government’s legitimacy and its capacity to deliver public service.
Nevertheless, if we look back to 1999, Papua’s call for dialogue has not been resolved after 13 years, whereas preliminary engagement between Jakarta and Papua has signaled something positive.
It is time to take advantage of the goodwill from both sides despite all differences, which are common in any political settings.
The window of opportunity under the current administration will not be open for much longer and none of us can guarantee whether the next administration will still be willing to engage in dialogue.
It is also the time for Yudhoyono to conclude his final term by contributing to Indonesia’s democracy and resolving the problem of Papua once for all.
The writer is a Franciscan friar and former director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Jayapura, Papua. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at the Australian National University.