Papuan Separatist Conflict Threatening Indonesian Unity, Warns Council Special Report
from Center for Preventive Action

Papuan Separatist Conflict Threatening Indonesian Unity, Warns Council Special Report

Recent deadly clashes between Papuans and Indonesian police, protests against an American copper and gold mining company, and Australia’s controversial granting of asylum to a group of Papuan refugees have brought the issue of autonomy for the remote province of Papua to international attention.

April 19, 2006 10:34 am (EST)

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Peaceful Resolution Unlikely Without U.S. and Regional Leadership

April 18, 2006—Recent deadly clashes between Papuans and Indonesian police, protests against an American copper and gold mining company, and Australia’s controversial granting of asylum to a group of Papuan refugees have brought the issue of autonomy for the remote province of Papua to international attention.

“Violent clashes between security forces and residents, resulting in deaths and injuries to both, can be expected to continue in the absence of progress toward peace. Each incident increases tensions and polarizes the situation even further, making peace and reconciliation that much more difficult,” warns the report, issued by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action (CPA).

At the same time, movement toward peace in Aceh province and a change of leadership in Jakarta now provide a unique opportunity to resolve the only remaining separatist dispute in Indonesia. The report outlines specific recommendations for the U.S. government, the Indonesian government, Papuans, and other actors to follow in moving toward a comprehensive solution to the long-simmering conflict, which threatens to destabilize the fragile archipelago nation and jeopardize U.S. relations with Indonesia, the world’s most populous nation.


Peace in Papua: Widening a Window of Opportunity, by Blair A. King of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, says, “Failure to take advantage of the current window of opportunity will prolong the suffering of the Papuan people, rendering peaceful resolution of the conflict increasingly unlikely.” The conflict could also threaten U.S. and other international investments in Papua as well as contribute to the uncertain investment climate in Indonesia as a whole. King, who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, was resident in Indonesia for seven years.

This report follows on a 2003 CPA report, Peace and Progress in Papua, which addressed the regional conflict in the archipelago’s easternmost province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), where pro-independence groups have waged a long struggle against the central government. Although the level of armed resistance has never been comparable to that in Aceh, Papuans have chafed under Indonesian control since a 1969 plebiscite that closed the door on independence for the isolated, resource-rich region.

“The next two years are a critical period in which the government and Papuans should embark on bold initiatives toward peace, before the 2009 presidential and legislative elections begin looming on the horizon,” says the report. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla have allowed the formation of the Papuan People’s Assembly, an important component of the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy for Papua, and Papuans have high expectations that a comprehensive settlement can be achieved under their leadership.

Progress in fully implementing the special autonomy law has been slow however, and Papua, despite having some of the world’s richest oil, gas, and mineral reserves, remains the most impoverished region in Indonesia. “In the past three years, economic and social conditions have deteriorated in Papua, despite the greatly increased flow of funds under special autonomy, mainly due to the poor quality of governance at all levels in the region.”

“Most troublesome are the reported augmentation of Indonesian military forces in Papua in recent months and the incidents of human rights violations that continue to go unpunished,” says King. The powerful Indonesian military has been especially brutal in Papua, resulting in the death and disappearance of thousands of Papuans since 1969. Foreign journalists are banned from Papua, so charges of persecution are difficult to assess.

Recommendations for the Indonesian government focus on adhering, in 2006 and 2007, to its public commitments to achieve a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Papua by:

  • “Engaging with legitimate representatives of Papuan society in a wide-ranging dialogue regarding various issues, including truth, justice, and reconciliation; security arrangements; and division of the province;
  • Fully implementing special autonomy for the region;
  • mproving local governance and increasing transparency so that special autonomy funds improve the well-being of ordinary Papuans; and
  • Reforming security arrangements so that human rights abuses cease.”

Recommendations for the United States and others, including European countries, Japan, Australia, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, include constructive engagement and support to Indonesian conflict resolution efforts through quiet but firm diplomacy. A package of technical and financial assistance, worth at least $50 million per year for ten years, is needed and should include support for:

  • “Education and training for Papuans in public administration, regional planning, natural resource management, and other relevant fields;
  • Accountable and sustainable management of Papua’s natural resources;
  • Education and public health sector improvements;
  • Civil service, judicial, military, and police reform in Papua, building on national efforts;
  • Expansion of the lawmaking, budgeting, and oversight capacity of legislatures in Papua;
  • Enhancement of civil society’s ability to monitor, investigate, and expose human rights violations, corruption, and other abuses of power; and
  • Establishment of a Papua trust fund to lengthen and smooth out the flow of special autonomy funds to the region.”

The report notes that “for negotiations to be meaningful and productive they must be based—at least implicitly—on the premise that independence is off the table and that Indonesian national unity will be respected.”

“A failure to capitalize on the momentum generated by the Aceh peace agreement would be a missed opportunity for preventing violent conflict; far worse, failure would prolong the suffering in Papua,” the report concludes.

Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.

The Council’s Center for Preventive Action (CPA) seeks to prevent, defuse or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by creating a forum in which representatives of governments, international organizations, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society can gather to develop operational and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations. CPA focuses on conflicts that affect U.S. interests, but may be otherwise overlooked; where prevention appears possible; and when the resources of the Council on Foreign Relations can make a difference.

Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that members, students, interested citizens, and government officials in the United States and other countries can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.

Contact: Anya Schmemann, DC Communications, 202-518-3419 or[email protected]

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