Konradus Epa, Jakarta – Churches in Papua have offered to mediate talks between the Indonesian government and separatist groups in a bid to ease tensions in the restive region.
The offer comes amid an escalation in violence in Papua that has seen hundreds of troops deployed and many people displaced in a crackdown following the government's decision on April 29 to declare pro-separatists as terrorists. This followed the death a week earlier of an Indonesian intelligence chief in a shootout with members of the rebel West Papua National Liberation Army
Church leaders conveyed their concern over the deteriorating situation during a meeting with Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD in Jakarta on May 25.
The leaders included Sacred Heart Archbishop Petrus Mandagi of Merauke in Papua, Indonesian bishops' conference president Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta, and Reverend Ronny Mandang, chairman of the Fellowship of Indonesian Evangelical Churches and Institutions.
During the meeting, they offered to act as a mediator in peace talks.
"Many church and ordinary people in Papua are praying the government will hold talks to end the violence immediately," Reverend Mandang said.
Mahfud responded by saying he was open to Christian leaders acting as mediators.
"If there are parties wanting to become mediators and they are welcomed by various groups in Papua, then we will facilitate that," he said.
"We ask for dialogue and will exchange ideas with anyone including church leaders who can help forge peace and security for the Papuan people."
Theo Hesegem, executive director of the Papua Justice and Human Integrity Foundation, welcomed the offer from the religious leaders.
"Dialogue must involve all elements to end the conflict," he told UCA News.
The Papua problem must involve a third party as a mediator as was the case with Finland when it helped broker a deal in Aceh to end conflict there in 2005, he added.