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ICG -Papua: The Dangers of Shutting Down Dialogue  joe collins
 Mar 23, 2006 22:48 PST 

New report

International Crisis Group

Papua: The Dangers of Shutting Down Dialogue

Asia Briefing N°47
23 March 2006


There is serious risk the long-awaited Papuan People's Council (Majelis
Rakyat Papua, MRP) is about to collapse, only five months after it was
established, ending hopes that it could ease tensions between Papuans and
the central government. The MRP was designed as the centrepiece of the
autonomy package granted the country’s easternmost province in 2001. Almost
as soon as it came into being, however, it was faced with two major crises –
stalled talks over the legal status of West Irian Jaya, the province carved
out of Papua in 2003, and violence sparked by protests over the giant
Freeport mine – while Jakarta marginalised its mediation attempts. To revive
genuine dialogue and salvage the institution before autonomy is perhaps
fatally damaged, President Yudhoyono should meet the MRP in Papua, thus
acknowledging its importance, while the MRP should move beyond
non-negotiable demands and offer realistic policy options to make autonomy

Papuan leaders had envisaged the MRP as a representative body of indigenous
leaders that would protect Papuan culture and values in the face of
large-scale migration from elsewhere in Indonesia and exploitation of
Papua’s natural resources. Jakarta-based politicians saw it as a vehicle for
Papuan nationalism and deliberately diluted its powers, then delayed its
birth. By the time it emerged, the province had been divided into two, many
Papuans were disillusioned with autonomy and some were already questioning
how the MRP could function under such circumstances.

The MRP’s authority remains uncertain. If it can manoeuvre its way through
these two crises, it may yet be able to take on other outstanding grievances
and become what Papua has always lacked, a genuinely representative dialogue
partner with Jakarta. If it fails, not only will its own legitimacy be
diminished, but local resentment against the central government will almost
certainly increase.

The signs are not good. As negotiations between the MRP and the central
government were underway to resolve the disputed legal status of West Irian
Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat, IJB), Jakarta suddenly authorised gubernatorial
elections there, cementing its status as a separate province outside
autonomy. The MRP, despite its hard-line rhetoric, had begun to show signs
of willingness to compromise, but rather than reciprocate, the central
government sidelined it. The MRP is now grappling with whether continued
negotiations are possible, and if not, whether it should disband. But with
large local turnout in the West Irian Jaya elections, and the local support
that implies for the province, the bigger question is whether the MRP is
still a relevant actor.

Meanwhile, student-led demonstrations in Papua and by Papuan students in
Java and Sulawesi demanding closure of the Freeport mine in Timika and the
withdrawal of military forces there, which had been escalating since late
February, culminated in a violent clash in Abepura on 16 March, in which
four police and an air force officer were killed and several civilians
seriously injured. The subsequent police sweeps have been heavy handed, and
the atmosphere remains tense. The MRP's attempts to engage the central
government on this issue were quickly brushed aside.

Successful MRP mediation of these tensions is becoming more crucial as the
chances of it happening become more remote. The MRP has not made its own
case any easier but it is now up to the central government to bring it back
on board. If sufficient trust can be reestablished to resume dialogue, a
compromise on West Irian Jaya is still possible, building on the baseline
consensus reached by the central government and top Papuan provincial
leaders in late November 2005. The essence of that agreement was that Papua
would remain a single economic, social, and cultural entity, regardless of
the administrative division. That is, there would be a single MRP, and the
autonomy funds from the central government and revenues raised in each
province from resource exploitation – from the gold and copper of the
Freeport mine in Papua and from the BP natural gas project in West Irian
Jaya – would be shared by both.

Since the elections, the MRP’s bargaining position has been further
weakened, but it is critically important now to reach a compromise on the
issue – not just in the interests of resolving two crises, but to make the
MRP a functioning institution. Failure to bolster the MRP would almost
certainly deal a fatal blow to an autonomy package in which many Papuans are
already losing faith. Given the current volatility in Papua, it is in
everyone’s interests to make sure this does not happen.

Jakarta/Brussels, 23 March 2006
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