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Papuans demonstrate against Indonesian rule

ABC Radio Australia - August 3, 2011

Around 10,000 Papuans have been demonstrating in support of independence from Indonesia. Witnesses say protesters defied a heavy police presence a day after an ambush police blamed on separatist rebels.

Demonstrators in the provincial capital Jayapura demanded the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the eastern region which has been the scene of a separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

Protests were also held in Timika, on the southern coast, and in the Indonesian capital Jakarta where hundreds called for an independence referendum similar to that granted to East Timor in 1999.

Richard Chauvel is from the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Victoria University, and a long standing Papua-watcher. He's been monitoring the situation, and Bill Bainbridge asked him what sparked the recent political violence that has seen at least 21 people killed.

Presenter: Bill Bainbridge

Speaker: Richard Chauvel, from the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Victoria University in Melbourne

Chauvel: The violence in the Central Highlands, in the district of Puncak, which was reported to have occurred on Sunday, I don't think was particularly related to the demonstration that took place in Jayapura and elsewhere in Papua yesterday. The violence in the Central Highlands was related to the conflict or clash between the supporters of two candidates for the election of the regions of the head of the Puncak District Government which is going to take place in a couple of months and there the problem appears to be that one political party, Gerindra has supported two sets of candidates and only one of those sets of candidates was accepted by the Indonesian Election Commission and the supporters of the rejected candidate took umbrage to that and attacked the supporters of the guy who was accepted.

Bainbridge: So the West Papuan National Committee accused elements of the security forces of provoking and staging the violence in order to foil the protest. You don't think there's any evidence to support that claim?

Chauvel: No, I think there were sufficient reports going back about the tensions around the elections in Puncak District to suggest that whatever the motives of the security forces in the Central Highlands of provoking violence, I think that there are issues related specifically to the elections for the region which are to a degree separate from the broader political issues.

Bainbridge: So the protesters in Jakarta were calling for an independence referendum of the sort that was given to East Timor in 1999. Is there any realistic likelihood of this ever getting the support of the government in Jakarta?

Chauvel: I think on present form, it would be extremely unlikely. The... Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government has been most reluctant to sit down and engage in a dialogue with Papuan political leaders, let alone agree like President Habibi did with East Timor, to the holding of a referendum. I think clearly a referendum would be a significant step further than agreeing to some form of dialogue, some form of negotiation, so I think at this stage highly unlikely. But it is a fairly well established demand of many groups in Papua and the large public consultation that took place in July of last year made exactly the same demand. It is related to what the subject matter of the conference now being discussed in Oxford, in England, about the act of free choice, which Indonesia conducted in 1969, which the selected Papuan delegates unanimously supported the integration of Papua into Indonesia, so that the demand for a referendum is related to the Papuan rejection of the results of the Act of Free Choice in 1969.

Bainbridge: Well, I'd like to go back to that conference in a moment, but you talked about a dialogue between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Papuans not really being there. He has assented to what he's called he's a constructive communication to discuss these political issues that fuel discontent in Papua. Is there any sign of that taking place, and if not, what is Jakarta's strategy to resolve this issue?

Chauvel: I think there... to go back to your first point, there are very few indications of what the president means by constructive communication, whether it is simply another term for what various... the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, with [Mooden Majojo? phonetic] and [Father Nilas Tobine? phonetic] in [Papor? phonetic] have been arguing for a year and a half to two years and been building up support for a dialogue between Papua and Jakarta, whether the president's term is simply another Jakarta's version of the same type of activity. It's too early to tell. There's been no clarification of what he means by that and I think both in terms of realising whatever he means by that, let alone accepting what Papuans and others have been arguing for the need to hold a dialogue. Jakarta seems to have been pretty reluctant to engage in either of them. To go to your second point... What is Jakarta's current policy framework for resolving difficulties in Papua? The best sign we have of that is Jakarta's intention to establish a special unit within the vice-president's office for the acceleration of economic development in the two Papuan provinces, Papua proper and West Papua. That unit seems to be based on the reconstruction bureau established for Aceh after the tsunami, which in Jakarta's interpretation has worked much more effectively to support economic development in Aceh, than has been the case under the implementation of special autonomy in Papua. It does in many respects, represent a recentralisation of control directly under Jakarta for economic planning, economic development programs in Papua.