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Papua crucial to Indonesia

By Richard Chauvel - posted Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Indonesia’s extreme sensitivity and depth of feeling about Papua is reflected in its decision to recall its ambassador.

Papua's economic importance to Indonesia is symbolised by the controversial Freeport gold and copper mine, which is Indonesia's largest corporate taxpayer, worth $US1.2 billion ($1.7 billion) last year.

Former Indonesian president Sukarno's statement in 1963 that his country was not complete without Papua conveys something of Papua's importance in Indonesian nationalist thinking. Sukarno successfully used the incorporation of Papua as a focus in the struggle for national unity. It remains thus.


There are no significant (non-Papuan) Indonesian leaders or parties that support Papuan independence and there are many who have grave reservations about any form of autonomy.

The Indonesian parliamentarians' protests and criticism of the granting of visas for the 42 Papuans have come from across the political spectrum, not just from the outspoken nationalists.

One of the reasons for Indonesia's sensitivity about Papua is the confusion surrounding Jakarta's policies in Papua. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made numerous statements about his government's commitment to find a political solution to the Papua conflict on the basis of the 2001 special autonomy law. The successful negotiations about Aceh have given the commitment to resolve Papua credibility and momentum.

He received strong support in Papua in the 2004 elections. His election generated considerable optimism among Papuans.

However, Yudhoyono has done little to clarify the confusion, contradictions and divisiveness in the Papua policy he inherited from Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Is his government committed to the implementation of special autonomy or will it continue Megawati's policy to create two or more provinces in Papua?


Megawati's decision to partition Papua was motivated by a fear that if the special autonomy law were implemented, it would empower a Papuan elite in Jayapura that would use it as a basis for a further step towards independence.

The Yudhoyono Government's policy decisions of the past couple of months have made a political resolution more difficult. The decision to hold elections for governor in the newly created province of West Papua indicates that the government is determined to pursue the partition of Papua.

This decision undermines and marginalises the Papuan People's Assembly, the institutional centrepiece of special autonomy, which the government established as the representative forum for Papuans. The decision disregarded the assembly's recommendation in March that the election for governor not proceed as the assembly had found there was little Papuan support for the new province. The assembly appealed to the government for a comprehensive and open dialogue to resolve Papua's problems. Senior government officials from Jakarta, including Security Minister Widodo, who visited Jayapura the day after the Abepura riots (March 15-16), refused to hold substantive discussions with members of the provincial parliament and Papuan religious leaders.

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First published in The Australian on March 28, 2006.

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About the Author

Richard Chauvel, a senior lecturer at the school of social sciences at Victoria University, is author of Constructing Papuan Nationalism: History, Ethnicity and Adaptation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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