Indonesia: Witness the Papuan spring

Indonesian security forces disperse 5,000 from Third Papuan Congress rally near Jayapura. What next?

Not since May 2000 has a Congress been held, bringing pro-democracy and human rights activists together to formulate their future. Most want an independence referendum. When ex-president Suharto fell in 2001, the 3.65 million Melanesians were awarded special autonomy giving them rights to raise tax from resources directly. 

But the Morning Star independence flag is banned and many are incarcerated as political detainees. Filep Karma, a pro-independence politician, is one such 'prisoner of conscience, according to Amnesty International. Another is Buchtar Tabuni, imprisoned leader of the Komite Nasional Papua Barat (KNPB), a group campaigning for the separation of Papua and West Papua from Indonesia.

Papua is the  western half of New Guinea, now subdivided by Indonesia into two provinces:
  • West Papua, provincial capital Manokwari, area 194,937 sq km, population c. 742,000
  • Papua, provincial capital Jayapura, area 421,981 sq km, population c. 2,900,000.
Papua's incorporation into Indonesia is a quirk of history resulting from the island of New Guinea being divided into three by the Dutch, Germans and British. The latter two now form Papua New Guinea. 

After the Dutch departed their western half of New Guinea, Papua/West Papua enjoyed a brief period of independence, came under UN control, yet was transferred to Indonesia in 1969.

Indonesia is a diverse land of some 17,500 islands spread out over an area of the world's surface which spans roughly that of the United States. Right to the east lies New Guinea, closer to Australia than Jakarta both geographically and temperamentally.

Now a major rally of those political activistists who have not been jailed has been broken up by force, reports Al Jazaeera.

“There's growing discontent among Papuans. The government needs to act fast to address various humanitarian issues,” Haris Azhar of Kontras, a human rights group, on 3 August told a UN humanitarian news service, IRIN. The agency reported that some 10,000 Papuans had protested in the streets of Jayapura and six other towns the day before.  Where will all this lead? 

It would make huge sense for Papuans to join their natural cousins in a reunited island of New Guinea. But perhaps renewed independence is their chosen path. Either route should be theirs to select, without coercian. 

Despite vast natural resources the two Papuan provinces within Indonesia remain under-developed and considerably poorer than the rest of the country. The people are restive and repression by the Indonesian administration has held a lid firmly on independence hopes. A further complication arises from population movement, with Indonesians encouraging inward migration to Papua to dedefine the demographic make-up of the region.

While it must be hard for the Jakarta government to contain autonomy aspirations in distant provinces, this can't persists. I realise that to permit one province to bolt would encourage others. Yet as the Russians discovered when the Berlin Wall fell, the empire fragments. The same lesson was learnt by the Serbs who, after Marshall Tito died, experienced to collapse of Yugoslavia. And Chancellor Metternich couldn't stem the nationalistic dreams of the (Austro-Hungarian) Hapsburg empire's subject peoples.

In the past, Indonesian security forces have employed cruel despotic tactics to contain independence aspirations. Aceh and East Timor are two notable examples, in both many thousands died. But democracy has now taken firm hold in Jakarta, and the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SYB) is more benign.

Could the break up of the 19 October pro-indendence rally at Abepura near Jayapura initiate a Papuan awakening? As we have all come to appreciate, it takes one spark to ignite the fire of revolt, Tunisia being the archetypal example.

Might this be Papua's moment of dissent?

The Adepura rally was filmed despite foreign journalists being banned by the Indonesians, and footage reached Al Jazeera. The TV station reported that human rights activists claimed six dead and seventeen protestors missing at the rally, including members of the symbolically declared interim Papuan government. Forkus Yamoisembut was declared President of Papua at that rally. And treason charges have been laid against those Papuan independence-seekers involved. 

Update October 22, 2011: 

Three were killed yesterday near the huge American-owned Grasberg mine in Papua, according to Jakarta Globe. A centre of protest for some time, the gold and copper mine strips Papua of its wealth at the expense of locals, the domestic population is said to believe.

This story has further to run, I suspect. Indeed, it might merely be in its early stages.

Check out all commentaries here.

No comments:

Post a Comment