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Divide and rule Papua

Jakarta Post Editorial - April 20, 2022

Jakarta – The unanimous House of Representatives' decision to pass a set of bills that will create three new provinces in Papua despite objections on the ground shows yet again that the elites in Jakarta deliberately alienate the Papuan people when it comes to strategic policies that will define their future.

The myopic mindset among policymakers, who look down on the Papuans, persists. The political elites claim to know what is best for the Papuan people, and with their intention to split Papua into smaller pieces they seek to perpetuate the decades-old asymmetric relationship between Jakarta and the easternmost territory.

The real motive behind this "divide and rule" act will sooner or later unfold, but surely the objective to form South Papua, Central Papua and Papua Central Highlands provinces goes beyond political and security interests. There must be economic interests at stake, considering the fact that Papua is rich in natural resources that range from minerals to forestry.

The regional division is apparently also well designed, starting from revision of the 2001 Special Autonomy for Papua Law last year. The new law bypasses the need for consultation with the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) in the event of the creation of new administrative regions.

The MRP is filing a judicial review motion with the Constitutional Court against the new law, but lawmakers have turned a blind eye to the court battle and will deliberate the bills with the government during the upcoming sitting session next month.

In fact, since the Act of Free Choice back in 1969, the destiny of Papua has been written on Jakarta's wall. While the silent majority has simply followed the rules, especially the sacrosanct territorial integrity of Indonesia, a few have dared to question Jakarta's authority, with some going so far as resorting to armed resistance.

Over the last four decades, sporadic attacks perpetrated by the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which the government refers to as an armed criminal group and classifies as terrorists, have been responded to with the deployment of more troops to Papua.

The special autonomy package introduced in 2001 marked a change in strategy to deal with Papua, from a security-heavy to a welfare approach. The creation of West Papua province in 2004 was intended to accelerate the delivery of public services in the vast territory.

When tabling the initiative bills on the formation of the three new Papua provinces, the House also insisted that the initiative would address the long-standing issues of public services and wealth eluding Papua's indigenous population. But the decision-making process that resulted in the bills was flawed from the beginning. It neither involved the local people nor took into account their voices.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the aspirations for the new provinces were conveyed during a dialogue between 61 influential Papuan figures and President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in 2019. However, as the "Papuan representatives" were selected by the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), it is safe to conclude that the idea of forming new provinces in Papua is a Jakarta-biased policy. Worse, Mahfud accuses those opposing the plan of being separatists.

We are afraid the new provinces, if established, will only exacerbate horizontal conflicts among groups and communities in Papua, as well as vertical conflicts between the state apparatus and local people, instead of bringing long-lasting peace and welfare to the region.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2022/04/19/divide-and-rule-papua.htm