Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – Papuans are mourning the death of a priest and leading peace campaigner working to try and end a long-running insurgency in Indonesia's easternmost region Papua.
Father Neles Kebadabi Tebay died on April 14 in Jakarta at 54 after losing his battle with blood cancer.
Among those expressing their condolences were President Joko Widodo and national police chief Tito Karnavian.
The priest, who was also chairman of the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, was widely known for his commitment to ending violence in Papua.
In 2010, he formed the Papua Peace Network, a group dedicated to finding ways to resolve longstanding conflicts and problems in Papua.
Papua has been subjected to a low-level insurgency for decades after the province was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a controversial referendum.
Father Tebay was among several Papuan leaders to meet Widodo in Jakarta in August 2017 for what was called the Papua-Jakarta dialogue to try and end violence.
He also wrote many articles for national and international media organizations to promote peace in the region.
He also wrote several books on the subject, including "Jakarta-Papua Dialogue: a Papua Perspective", "Picking Up the Pen for Papuan Dialogue" and "Reconciliation and Peace: Interfaith Endeavor for Peace in West Papua."
Father Tebay's death was a big loss for Papuans, according to another activist priest, Father John Djonga.
"He struggled relentlessly to find a dignified solution to the problem of Papua," he told ucanews.com.
He said Father Tebay was a figure who seemed to be accepted by all groups.
Markus Haluk, executive director of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) said he was deeply saddened by the priest's death.
"He is the golden bridge to peace that we have to build to end prolonged conflicts in Papua," he said. "He was also a shepherd for the people of Papua."
Adriana Elisabeth, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) who sometimes worked alongside Father Tebay, said the priest always tried to instill optimism among peace advocates that someday dialogue between Jakarta and Papua would be successful.
"His persistence and positive outlook helped people in the Papua Peace Network remain confident, despite some creeping doubts," she added.
Mathen Goo, a Papuan activist, said Father Tebay was an inspiration for their struggle. "It will be difficult to find someone like him again," he said.
Born in Dogiyai district on Feb. 13, 1964, Father Tebay completed his undergraduate studies at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology.
He then took a master's degree in pastoral care at Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines and completed a doctoral program in Missiology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.
In 2013, he received South Korea's prestigious Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award for his commitment to trying to forge peace in Papua.
Father Tebay's funeral is due to take place on April 18 in Timika, the capital of Mimika Regency in Papua.