Govt urged to win hearts of Papuan people

The central government should intensify its communication with the international community and win the hearts of Papuan people, instead of employing a military approach, to crush the Free Papua Movement (OPM), according to community and religious leaders in Papua.

Papuan Governor Jaap Solossa said that the government should counter OPM's struggle for independence through political and cultural means with intensive actions to win support from countries who are influential in international fora.

According to him, a defensive approach and military offensive will not be effective in crushing the underground independence movement because like Aceh, the core problem in the Papua is injustice, human rights abuses and unfair treatment and not the armed rebellion.

"Besides, the government should also be consistent in its implementation of the special autonomy to win the hearts of the people so that they will no longer support the separatist movement. The more human rights abuses and injustices that occur the more the people will suffer and the more they will support the separatist movement," he said after a meeting with Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the latter's office here on Saturday.

Also accompanying Solossa in the meeting were leaders of religious groups in Papua and former Papuan governors Barnabas Suebu and Izaac Hindom.

He declined to reveal details about the meeting but according to credible sources, the Papuan delegation met Susilo in line with the government's planned military offensive in Papua following the ongoing one in Aceh.

When asked whether the government had changed its mind on the planned military operation in Papua, the governor said: "No... there is no such plan (to launch military operation in Papua).

He, nevertheless, was quick to add: "The meeting, of course, focused strongly on the government's plan to pay more attention to end the secessionist movements in Aceh and Papua, as well as terrorism issues and security matters prior to the 2004 general election."

The military leadership has warned against OPM's intensive lobbying with international non-governmental organizations and developed countries to win their support for the province's separation from Indonesia.

Solossa regretted that the government has not disbursed the special autonomy funds worth Rp 1.3 trillion (US$158.5 million) in the fiscal year 2003.

The funds should have been disbursed in March.

Almost all development projects that have been approved and completed this fiscal year could not be carried out because of the delay, he said. "We do need the funds to finance development projects and the government should show its goodwill to encourage progress under the autonomy era in the province to win the hearts of the Papuan people. The government should foster the Papuan people's dignity."

Solossa also questioned the suspension of the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) which has a vital political function in determining the development policy and the future of the country's easternmost province.

He said Papua and the central government have been at odds over the MRP since the latter did not want the highest Papuan law-making body to have any political authority.

He said neither side discussed the planned development of Papua into three provinces, a move Papuan religious leaders have opposed.

The military has been behind the government's move in its attempt to weaken the separatist movement.

However, the military has been strongly criticized for rampant human rights abuses over the last three years, ranging from the murder of proindependence Papuan figure Dortheys "Theys" Hiyo Eluway to the recent killing of dozens of civilians in a hunt for rebels in Timika, Jayawijaya regency.

* Published by The Jakarta Post, June 17, 2003