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Papua Conflict: Problems and Prospects for Resolution


Ambassador Imron Cotan
Observer of Issues of Strategic Importance

Lately the security situation has continued to heat up in Papua. In addition to taking the Susi Air pilot as hostage, the Papuan separatist group also carried out a series of attacks on members of the Indonesian National Police and TNI, apart from torturing and killing of innocent people. The last case was the stabbing of three workers who were building a communication network facility in the Gunung Bintang Regency.

In the midst of public discourse about the best way to deal with this low-scale conflict in Papua, there are some quarters, who try to obscure the history of Papua’s return to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. Sometimes the term “integration” is being used, as if Papua was a separate geographical and political entity from the Dutch East Indies colony. Historical facts prove that along with other regions in Indonesia, Papua was ruled by the Dutch colonialists from Batavia (Jakarta).
This historical fact paved the way for the application of the principles of international law Uti Possidetis Juris, which stipulates that: “the boundaries of a newly independent state are the same as those when the territory was colonized”. In the case of Indonesia, the area stretches from Sabang to Merauke. Thus, Papua is an integral part of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Indonesia, in contrast to Timor Leste, which was never colonized by the Dutch.

Thus, Papua is purely an internal issue of Indonesia. The involvement of one or two small countries in the South Pacific region does not change the essence that Papua is an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia. Many people are currently forgetting the fact that one of the objectives of the United Nations’ Resolution (1969) was to provide an opportunity for the Dutch to withdraw honorably from Papua, bearing in mind that Indonesia had decided to launch a military operation code-named “Komando Trikora” to liberate the region. It should be noted that the Indonesian military in the 1960s was the strongest in the Asian region, due to the supply of main combat equipment such as submarines, tanks and fighter planes from the then Soviet Union.

The International political and legal facts above do not prevent a group of people from fantasizing about liberating Papua by carrying out several narratives, especially racial discrimination, as if the Indonesian Melanesian race only exists in Papua. In fact, the pro-Papua legislation issued actually discriminates against non-Papuans, because it prevents them from competing fairly on a meritocracy basis in the Papuan public domain. On the other hand, Papuans are free to compete throughout Indonesia, without limits. This affirmative policy, in an attempt to honor Papua’s cultural differences, should be most welcome.

It is this affirmative policy and respect for Papua’s cultural diversity that is strategically behind the launch of the special autonomy program and the expansion of the Papua’s new provinces through Law No.: 02/2021 and Law No.: 14/2022. Apart from opening up great opportunities for the Papuan people to take part in those new provinces, it also shortens the government’s span of control, so that public
services can be carried out quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively. It is also certain that the budget spending of the new regions will speed up the wheels of the local economy, distribute development results and improve the welfare of the Papuan people, as desired by Presidential Instruction No.: 09/2020 concerning the Acceleration of Papua’s Development and Welfare.

The Increasing activity and violence perpetrated by separatist groups is inseparable from the decreasing attention from the international community. Vanuatu, for example, no longer raised the issue of Papua at the UN General Assembly’s sessions last year. The world’s concern over the Ukraine-Russia proxy war and its side effects has contributed to drowning international attention on the Papuan conflict. For this reason, the Papuan separatist group using the method of terrorism, as stipulated in Law No.: 05/2018 concerning the Eradication of Acts of Terorrism, is working hard to return Papua in to the world’s attention. The kidnapping of Susi Air’s pilot, a New Zealand citizen, is a case in point. The demand to exchange the release of him in exchange for Papuan independence is also beyond common sense. The kidnapping and release of three Australian citizens in PNG, almost at the same time as the Susi Air pilot case, can actually be used as an example that kidnapping will never reach its intended target.

It Is also reasonable to assume that the social communication and territorial development approach, which was taken based on good intentions by the TNI in the past year, has opened up opportunities for the rebel groups to carry out regrouping, reconsolidation and rearmament. This explains why recently they have become more organized in carrying out attacks and killings, which also target non-combatants.
One of the solutions to the Papua problem that needs to be explored is holding a cross-generational and cross-cultural dialogue, which should also involve elements of non-Papuan to help find the best way to overcome differences, still in the context of Papua as an integral part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.

The consensus reached by these stakeholders is then communicated to the central government to be used as material for formulating bottom-up policies to address existing problems. The dialogue forum will open up opportunities to hear the aspirations of “the silent majority”, which so far have been silenced by the terror of separatist groups.

The grassroots dialogue should be carried out in parallel with the operation to restore security to eliminate separatist groups, so as to create a situation and condition that is conducive to holding the said dialogue. Acts of violence committed by separatist groups have long created widespread fear in Papua, terrorized the public, silenced “the silent majority”, which clearly contradicts the provisions contained in Law No.: 05/2018 concerning Eradication of Acts of Terrorism. The operation to restore security is the implementation of the government’s constitutional mandate, as stated in Paragraph IV of the Preamble of the 1945 Constitution, namely that the government is obliged to: “… protect the entire Indonesian nation and all of Indonesia’s territory”.

If this mandate is neglected, the acts of violence by Papuan separatist groups will continue. The Gadjahmada University Papua Task Force’s report identified that there were 224 cases of violence perpetrated by separatist groups as of March 2022, far exceeding the allegations of violence perpetrated by members of the TNI/Polri. Sometimes there are parties who are prejudiced against the use of the word “oknum” (individual), obscuring the fact that the government has never formulated a
state policy to commit violence or violate human rights, as happened for example in the Yugoslav war (1991 – 2001). A number of perpetrators such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic have been tried at, in the Netherlands.

It needs to be emphasized that eradicating separatism and acts of terrorism in Papua is not an option, but a constitutional order that must be upheld.

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