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Indonesia’s New Achilles Heel – The Deteriorating Situation in Papua

Updated On: Mar 24, 2006

Indonesia had made mistakes in East Timor as well as Aceh, but had so far survived the mistakes and made amends.  Would it made the same mistakes in Papua now? 

The escalating violence in Papua in the past week resulting in several deaths underlined once again the need for Indonesian government to do a more to address the territory’s grievances ranging from what John McBeth, a freelance journalist based in Jakarta, sees as “unfair distribution of the wealth gleaned from its natural resources to political double-dealing in Jakarta and a deep rooted disrespect for Papuan culture”. 

It was also believed that the violent demonstrations had been planned for months by two radical groups allegedly linked to the territory’s independence movements.  The inability of the Indonesian central government to rein in the military and the paramilitary police mobile brigade and provide genuine assurances of improved treatment of the Papuans fuel growing discontent.  Indeed there were allegations by Papuan human rights groups that the Indonesian military is still engaged in genocide on a scale previously seen in East Timor.  However, Jakarta-based Western diplomats say they have seen nothing to support these allegations.

Politicians in Jakarta are also capitalizing on the situation to put pressure on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) to close Freeport Indonesia’s most profitable Grasberg’s gold and copper mines) and to turn public opinion against US oil company ExxonMobil. 

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has hardened his stand and made it clear he has no intention of bowing to protesters and closing the Grasberg mine, which last year earned the central government US$1.1 billion in taxes and royalties. If he gave way, there might be many foreign investments that will unravel before Jakarta.  This is particularly after ExxonMobil has just been given the go-ahead to act as the operator of Java’s new Cepu oilfield after a prolonged dispute with the state-run Pertamina oil company.

Clearly not prepared to lose another province, and with greater sensitivity to issues of territorial integrity precipitated by the Ambalat territorial dispute with Malaysia over oil resources, Jakarta will do all it can to keep the Papuan separatist movement down. 

All eyes will now be on Indonesia, and particularly from Australia and the US because of past mistakes in East Timor, to see how it would stop the situation in Papua from deteriorating. 

Sources:

Students staying away from dormitories in Abepura (Jakarta Post, 22 March 2006)

MRP calls for thorough probe into Abepura case (Antara, 22 March 2006)

Rights commission member meets Papua police chief on Abepura case (Antara, 22 March 2006)

John McBeth “Tribal Tribulation: Papuan anger focuses on world's richest mine” (Asia Times online,  23 March 2006)