Jakarta called to action in Papua
The recently set up tribal council must be nurtured as a forum for dialogue on the province's problems
Indonesia has to move quickly before the tension between the Papua province and Jakarta gets any worse and takes its toll on a tribal council set up last year.
In a recently released report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), there is serious concern that the recently established Papuan People's Council (MRP) could fall apart just months after it came into being.
MRP was the centrepiece of an autonomy package aimed at curbing a low-level separatist insurgency in the resource-rich province. It was supposed to be the most meaningful representative body to emerge in Papua since it came under Jakarta's rule in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, because of the half-hearted attitude of some politicians in Jakarta who felt that the MRP could serve as a vehicle to boost the separatist ideology, the body was never really given the chance to take constructive action, ICG argued.
In particular, the MRP failed to take action following riots over the giant Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine that rocked Papua last week, leaving five security officers dead.
"The anti-Freeport violence was a way of venting frustration over long-running grievances, from a lack of justice for past abuses to poverty and corruption to the role of the military in the province," ICG analyst Francesca Lawe-Davies said in a statement accompanying the report.
For it to work, Jakarta is going to have to acknowledge the importance of the MRP.
Jakarta has shown that it has the capacity and will to make necessary concessions and compromises, as seen in the peace deal with the Acehnese. So there is no reason why the central government should be unable to do the same in Papua.
But it takes two to tango. For its part, the MRP is going to have to move beyond non-negotiable demands and offer realistic policy options to make autonomy work.
All sides are going to have to come to an agreement as to what they want out of the MRP. A genuine forum that the Papuans could use to enter into serious dialogue with Jakarta is not too much to ask for. In these troubled times, it would be in the interest of the Jakarta government to see to it that such a forum exists and withstands the test of time, crisis or not. If the forum fails to stand on its own, the trust of the Papuan public in the central government will also disappear.
The problem in Papua has spilled over into the diplomatic arena with Jakarta's recall of its ambassador to Australia following a recent decision to grant visas to all but one of the 43 Papuans who arrived in the north of the country by boat in January.
The Papuans, who include pro-independence activists and their families, have accused Jakarta of "genocide" in troubled Papua, a former Dutch colony taken by Indonesia in the 1960s.
As the world's fourth-largest country by population and a nation with so much potential, Indonesia could do more in terms of moral leadership.
Jakarta has been working hard to reinvent is armed forces and bring to a close the tragic chapters of East Timor and Aceh, where tens of thousands of innocent lives were lost. With a strong civil society, an outspoken and free media, and a democratic government and institutions, Indonesia has the makings of a great nation.
Many in Thailand and in Asean applauded Jakarta's decision to intervene in Burma's political deadlock when it dispatched former foreign minister Ali Alatas to Rangoon to talk some sense to the junta.
As the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesian religious leaders and public figures have worked hard to ensure that Islam is not a threat to democracy and that this religion, which is embraced by more than one billion people worldwide, is in fact compatible with democracy.
But leadership does not come easy. Indonesia is going to have to clean up its own house and show the world that it has the capability and statesmanship to set a good example for the world community.