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Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua

Jakarta/Brussels, 22 August 2011: A spike in violence in Indonesian Papua over the last two months underscores the urgency of exploring new ideas to address conflict there.

Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, juxtaposes the vision of a peaceful Papua produced by a conference in Jayapura in July with the reality of conflict in Puncak Jaya, one of the most remote districts.

“President Yudhoyono needs to move quickly to set up a long-delayed new Papua unit with a mandate to cover political as well as economic development issues”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “It’s not a guarantee that the situation will get better, but without a fresh approach from Jakarta, it will certainly get worse”.

Crisis Group notes that a series of “indicators” produced by the Papua Peace Conference on 5-7 July could serve as guidelines for public policy at a national and local level. For example, one indicator of a peaceful Papua would be that basic socio-cultural rights of indigenous Papuans are recognised and respected. A policy consequence might be to prepare booklets on customs of different ethnic groups that would be required reading for anyone assigned to Papua, including security forces. Another indicator would be that perpetrators of state violence are brought to trial and sentenced in a way that gives Papuans a sense of justice. The policy prescription would be to ensure that soldiers or police responsible for gratuitous violence are given sentences commensurate with the crime, instead of slap-on-the-wrist punishments for disciplinary infractions.

The district of Puncak Jaya, wracked by insurgency, corruption and some of the worst poverty in Papua, exemplifies the challenge of finding solutions. There are many factors feeding the insurgency there including a sense of historical injustice, harsh actions by security forces and clan-based factionalism. But two common policy responses - more money and more troops (deployed for “community service”) - are not likely to bring about improvements.

This is where a new “Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua” (called UP4B after its Indonesian abbreviation), has the potential to be helpful. A draft decree creating the unit has been sitting on the Cabinet Secretary’s desk in Jakarta for the last three months, and some are beginning to wonder if it will ever come into being. Originally seen as a vehicle for economic “quick wins”, it evolved into a unit that, according to the latest draft, was also tasked with “developing the mechanism and substance of constructive communication between the government and representatives of the people of Papua and West Papua with a view toward resolving the the conflict”.

“At least the indicators provide some ideas on how to move forward”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, South East Asia Project Director. “The challenge now is to make tangible changes that Papuans themselves would regard as progress.”

ENDS

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