Time to think about the future of West Papua


Early this month in the year of 2007, a very small number of West Papuan still try to celebrate the 46th anniversary of its declaration of independence, a document that has never been recognized by any member of the international community. Yet every year separatists in the Indonesian province of West Papua raise their rebel flag and engage in traditional celebrations.

This year’s celebration were prompted with unclear and mixed feeling and hope because there is no sincerity among Papuan separatist, each party just wanted to targeting a specific aim of political gain or economic motive. From the side of Papuan local government, there is growing concern that militant separatists will be emboldened the celebration within the territory of Indonesia and in international for such as Europe and Australia. Even though the situation could not become explosive, the province of West Papua is under military guard and in recent weeks there have been a rising number of attacks from separatist.
Indonesia’s vast archipelago since 1998 has suffered escalating ethnic and religious violence, including the act of terrorism and separatism. To stabilize the situation, the government of Indonesia has offered regional autonomy to restive provinces like West Papua and to Aceh on the island of Sumatra. The power-sharing plan would decentralize authority and enable the provinces to exercise greater administrative control. It would also allow them to retain a larger share of the profits from their natural resources.

In the era of Abdurrahman Wahid presidency, regarding West Papua, Wahid has proposed to rename the province back to West Papua from Irian Jaya, while during Megawati presidency, she has proposed return as much as 80% of revenues from copper, gold, timber and other resources to local people. She had visited the province in during her period of presidency to convince Papuans to accept a new autonomy law.

Like the rest of Indonesia, West Papua was colonized by the Dutch. Some non representative leaders declared its independence in 1961, two years before the Dutch departed without any single international recognition. Though the Dutch were willing to grant independence, Papuans ultimately acceded to Indonesia via a United Nations-supervised referendum in 1969. Separatist leaders maintain that this referendum was flawed because only tribal leaders were allowed to vote.

Since 1998, an active Papuan pro-independence movement has emerged as a byproduct of Indonesia’s overall democratization. Some Papuans believe that only independence can help them achieve power control over the land of Papua. Indonesia with its principle of unity within diversity do not allow any discrimination. Papuan leaders with a high level capability in governance can become a Member of Parliament and event member of Indonesian National Cabinet. As Melanesians, Papuans contribute to the development of Indonesian identity as a plural society.

Within the democratic Indonesia, it is the right time to build West Papua with a comprehensive and transparent program of development. It is a challenging time for all Papuans to administer autonomy and distribute the proceeds from natural-resource sharing with a fair and open mechanism.

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