Tama Salim, Jakarta – Lawmakers have criticized the government for lacking a unified approach in dealing with separatism in Papua, the country's easternmost province.
Members of the House of Representatives' Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, blasted the Foreign Ministry for not doing enough to counter public relation campaigns conducted by separatist groups from Papua, which they said were slowly garnering support abroad.
"There is a sense that their struggle for independence is gaining momentum ever since Benny Wenda's group launched its human rights-themed campaign overseas," Democratic Party lawmaker Darizal Basir said, referring to the controversial leader and founder of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a separatist group that has garnered worldwide attention since gaining the approval of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in South Africa last year.
The ministry, which had so far avoided addressing the issue, dismissed the allegation that separatist groups in Papua were gaining ground.
"I think it's too early to say that their leader is Benny Wenda, because [the separatist groups] are still very fragmented," Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said in a hearing with Commission I on Tuesday.
"Benny Wenda flying the ULMWP flag does not necessarily represent the aspirations or struggles of our friends [in Papua]," she said, before asking leaders of Commission I to turn the hearing into a closed-door session due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Commission I chairman Mahfudz Siddiq further berated the government for what he considered a failure to conduct damage control on the issue of Papuan separatism.
Mahfudz further urged the Foreign Ministry to take the initiative in coordinating its public relations campaign with other government agencies.
Mahfudz said the ministry could work with the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) to broker a deal that would allow members of separatist groups to give up their cause.
"BIN has already struck a deal that made waves abroad. If that doesn't work out, I'm wary of the impact it might have on [the government's efforts]. This might become fodder for the separatists," the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Late last month, 10 former members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) met with intelligence chief Sutiyoso in Jakarta to seek an amnesty and living assistance in exchange for turning themselves in to the authorities.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan said in response that the government would consider the request and would promote dialogue with the group.
In January, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo instructed his cabinet to prioritize a soft approach in handling separatism, over the hard approach that involves force and firearms.
Separately, international relations analyst Adriana Elisabeth of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) warned the government against underestimating the conflict in Papua.
"This problem has been brewing for years, so I think as the highest political symbol, the President should make a point of engaging in more concrete work that would politically open up room for dialogue," Adriana told the Post.