The ramifications of the fast moving events in Libya and the middle east could be felt as far away as Papua in Indonesia, a Sydney Conference has been told.
A movement for greater autonomy or even independence from Indonesia has been active since Papua was absorbed by the Muslim state in 1969.
It has been at times ruthlessly suppressed by successive governments in Jakarta, fearful of the loss of national unity and rich resources.
But observers say with demands for greater democracy reverberating around the world there might be a new willingness in Jakarta to take on board the calls for change.
Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speakers: Peter King, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney University; Jacob Rumbiak, coordinator of the foreign office of the West Papua National Authority; John Otto Ondawame, Vice President of the West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation.
SNOWDON: Indonesia has faced strong resistance to its rule in Papua, or West Papua, as it’s also known. The complaints include the appalling human rights record of the security forces, lack of development, resource stripping, cultural insensitivity and unwelcome migrants. Often these complaints have been ignored or dealt with inadequately, but perhaps this is changing.
KING: The political situation in Jakarta is now being driven by events in Papua and also international reaction to what’s happening in Papua.
SNOWDON: Peter King is the convenor of the West Papua Project at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, where he spoke at an international conference on Papua.
Peter King says the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been embarrassed by the worldwide release of the video showing Papuan men being tortured by Indonesian security.
And by the symbolic return of special autonomy to Jakarta through huge public demonstrations in June last year. Indonesia’s effort at appeasement, special autonomy has been a failure.
KING: Anybody would be encouraged by what’s gone on in the Middle East. And the Papuans are even more mobilised than those Arab populations were – it’s a kind of permanent Papuan mobilisation against Jakarta. And the tactic so far of cultivating an enriched elite of bureaucrats and politicians, which has been the main Indonesian strategy to pacify Papuans, plus the influx of migrants from outside Papua, that’s not going to wash in the post-Tahir Square milieu that we’re living in.
SNOWDON: And there has been something of a breakthrough. Jacob Rumbiak was jailed for nine years, part of the time he spent with East Timor’s Xanana Gusmao. He returned to Jakarta for the first time this month at the invitation of the Indonesian government. He’s now an academic and the coordinator of the foreign office of the West Papua National Authority, which he calls the transitional government of an independent West Papua. He was afforded high level access over two weeks of talks in Jakarta.
RUMBIAK: Visiting Jakarta is part of how to negotiate with Jakarta about how to build trust between Jakarta and the people of West Papua.
SNOWDON [TO RUMBIAK]: To what end, independence or just more autonomy for Papua?
RUMBIAK: The aim is based on [democracy]. Let Papuans choose. If they want to integrate with Indonesia, it’s OK, but when they want to [be] independent, that’s the right.
SNOWDON: A lack of unity in the past has set back the resistance movement. John Otto Ondawame, the vice president of the West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation based in Vanuatu says a united call for dialogue for the peaceful resolution of issues with Indonesia mean the old divisions have ended.
ONDAWAME: Papuans are united in their aspirations for political change.
SNOWDON [TO ONDAWAME]: Are the groups working together successfully now?
ONDAWAME: Yes, we’re working together both inside West Papua in the guerilla camp in the jungle and also in the outside world to raise the voices of the West Papuans to the international community that we are united.
SNOWDON: And he calls on the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Island Forum to do more to promote reconciliation between Indonesia and Papua.
ONDAWAME: These two bodies must stand together to address the issue of West Papua and to send a fact finding mission to investigate the human rights situation in West Papua and other related issues.
SNOWDON [TO ONDAWAME]: Given the recent case of torture case against members the Indonesian military do you see any change in Jakarta and in the president’s office towards a better deal for Papua?
ONDAWAME: The culture of torture [by the] military has continued for the past 54 years after occupation.
SNOWDON: Is there no improvement?
ONDAWAME: No improvement at all.