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Papua: Returned nationalist calls for dialogue
NewsNotes, May-June 2009

A Papuan nationalist leader who returned to his ancestral homeland after more than 40 years in exile called for dialogue between “neighbors” when he met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Nicolaas Jouwe, 85, met with Yudhoyono during a March visit. Like Jouwe, many native Papuans believe a 1969 referendum that joined Papua with Indonesia was unfair. Many scholars and some of the UN personnel who monitored the so-called Act of Free Choice agree it was rigged. This story is based on the April West Papua Report and a briefing on autonomy posted by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).

Jouwe was elected in1961 to the first New Guinea Council, an embryonic parliament in what was then a Dutch colony. He became a key leader in the Papuan independence movement, and he designed the Morning Star flag that still represents Papuan aspirations for independence. Jouwe was active in a nonviolent campaign for international recognition of Papuans’ right to self-determination.

However, ETAN says U.S. Cold War strategy led the Kennedy administration to support Indonesia’s claim to the territory. A U.S.-brokered agreement in 1963 delivered Papua to Indonesia, and ETAN says Papuans’ feeling that they were denied their right to self-determination lies at the root of the continuing conflict.

Jouwe and other independence leaders of his generation preached nonviolence, international diplomacy and dialogue, and Jouwe reiterated those ideas during his March visit with Yudhoyono. He called once more for dialogue since “Indonesia remains our big neighbor,” adding, “Even if we have to talk a thousand times, it is better than violence.”

Yudhoyono described the meeting as an “encounter of heart and mind,” but it was unclear if he wanted further dialogue. He apparently hoped Jouwe would express support for Papuan integration with Indonesia. But Jouwe, on his first visit to Papua since Indonesia took control in 1963, told reporters he still considered Papua to be an independent country.

The visit was dominated by what came to be known as “the pincident.” Jouwe arrived wearing a Papuan flag lapel pin. At a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesian Ambassador to the Netherlands Yunus Habibie pressed Jouwe to pin an Indonesian flag to his lapel. Jouwe declined, repeating the need for dialogue between “neighbors.” The government seemed to take a dim view of that perspective. Four Dutch journalists covering Jouwe’s visit were deported, even though they held appropriate visas.

In 2001 then-President Megawati Sukarnoputri issued an Autonomy Bill for Papua, but its implementation has not gone smoothly. A bill drafted by various members of Papuan society had proposed autonomy rather than outright independence, calling for control of the police, protection of human rights, a Papuan bicameral legislature, local political parties and local control of economic development. In its response, however, the national parliament rejected most of the elements that would have ensured more local autonomy.

Yudhoyono later issued a decree on the Acceleration of Development of Papua, increasing the funding for ministers directly involved in developing the territory. Octavianus Mote, then studying in Yale’s Genocide Studies Program, wrote that the problem was not the incompetence of the provincial government officials or a lack of development funds. Rather, he said, “the main problem is that [the Indonesian government] is reluctant to let go [of] its decision-making power and authority to the provincial government authorities…”

Mote said Papuans felt a solution of the issue was unlikely without genuine dialogue between Indonesia and Papua, facilitated by a neutral third party, “as it is obvious that Indonesia … is not capable and not willing to resolve the conflict.” He said the international community should put pressure on Indonesia to implement a fair degree of autonomy for the Papuan people.

He also said Papuans are branded as “subversive separatists” when they cite the transition from Dutch colonial rule to Indonesian colonial rule as the root of the conflict between Papua and Indonesia. But he said the accusation is unfair and warned it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if Indonesia did not end its accusations, intimidation and terrorism in Papua.

In reality, Mote said, the Papua issue “cannot and will not be resolved by throwing a lot of money to the Papuans, by bribing the Papuans, by improving the socio-economic conditions of the Papuans without genuinely treating them as equals within the Republic of Indonesia.”

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