The conflict in Papua has many times come to the attention of the international world since 1945 when Indonesia declared its independence and claimed territorial rights over Papua. Then, it was between the Netherlands and Indonesia.
The Dutch promised freedom for the Papuans on the ground of their distinctive physical characteristics. Melanesians are not Malays. That was the Dutch’s basic premise. Indonesia, on the other hand, wished to declare its sovereignty throughout all the Dutch’s East Indies. This certainly included Papua. But, is that all?
Behind The Desire to Retain Papua
Other than those seemingly noble and genuine motives, had both the Dutch and Indonesia no ulterior motives? Well, this we could never really know.
Nevertheless, Papua’s relatively untouched natural resources—its mountains of ores, extremely vast-covering rain forests, and landscape and oceanic beauties—were definite temptations. Money- and prestige-minded countries would most likely have their eyes on Papua. All in the name of development, claiming that the native Papuans then were uncivilized and thus required help and support from the progress-oriented government. While in fact, all these charades were subtlety for well-structured, world-class capitalism.
Thus, Papua was fought for among the Dutch and Indonesian governments.
When the US intervened out of fear of Indonesia’s inclination towards the Soviet communists during the ruling of President Soekarno, it pushed the Dutch to give in to Indonesia by letting the United Nations facilitate the mediation over Papua instead.
In short, the New York Agreement was signed in 1962, noting the plan to organize the Act of Free Choice to allow the Papuans to choose if they wanted to stay with Indonesia or not. Unfortunately, when it was executed in 1969, only slightly over 1,000 Papuan adults participated under the Indonesian military presence. The decision to stay with Indonesia was thus deemed unfair by the separatists, who then were already established as the Free Papua Movement.
Behind The Initiative to Divide Papua
Through the years since the integration of Papua into Indonesia, there have been numerous protests ending up in riots or violent acts conducted by the Free Papua Movement. Why have they done these?
Well, it was safe to say that the Movement particularly cared for the well-being of the indigenous tribes, traditional communities and the native Papuans. However, they had to witness injustice conducted against their land and their people, which among others include:
- Numerous human right violations including unjustified bombings and killings conducted by paid military personnel leading to mass casualties and genocide;
- Massive land openings and exploitations of natural resources without considering their environmental impacts nor significantly benefiting the Papuan people; and
- A large number of migrants from other regions with better living privileges than the Papuans.
Witnessing each incident as it happened close to home, the Free Papua Movement conducted strong protests, often leading to riots and violent acts. They sabotaged business operations, took hostages, and assaulted innocence to make their voice heard.
Both the military and the separatist retaliated towards each other to a seemingly never-ending history of conflict in Papua. This posed constant threats to the development of the Papuan regions, as well as to the underlying business operations of foreign investors in the land.
While Indonesia’s fourth President, Gus Dur, gave special autonomy to Papua to settle its own domestic issues and develop their own regions, the subsequent President, Megawati started dividing the regions within in 2002.
Papua’s Territorial Division: Pros & Cons
From originally four municipalities in 1999, the Government divided Papua into 14 in 2002. Subsequently the year after, Papua too was divided into two provinces: Papua and West Papua. Who benefited from this? Who were at a loss?
Well, the Government saw this division as a strategic move towards better controlled and more easily governed Papua. By distributing the governance into local tribal elites, Papua was no longer one united voice. This certainly inhibited the Free Papua Movement campaigns for independence and proved to slow down their resistance acts.
Some of these government-appointed elites might have a genuine interest in developing their regions. Thus, control over smaller municipality or province would certainly make it easier, giving them more focus to define, execute and monitor their own regional development.
Nevertheless, some of these elites might also be corrupted. With the hidden interest of personal financial gain, they might just make it easier for businesses to exploit the natural resources within their own geographical areas. Or worse, they might be eyeing for a portion of the government’s special autonomy fund allocated for strategic projects within their regions.
In addition, dividing Papua into smaller governing territories has presented new issues. Conflict during elections of local leaders has happened and taken a toll leading to casualties. Tribal leaders competed for prestige over taking the seat of power on top of the prospect of personal benefit they might obtain.
With the plan to add another new province—that is the South Papua—to make a total of three Papuan provinces, we could only hope for genuine and committed local governance for the real progress and development of the Papuan people.