Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who played a key role in negotiating peace in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, said he will initiate efforts to bring an end to Papua’s long-running conflict with the central government.
By Richard C. Paddock
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who played a key role in negotiating peace in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, said he will initiate efforts to bring an end to Papua’s long-running conflict with the central government.
The vice president said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he will attempt to start “another dialogue” in Papua, which has been plagued by low-level fighting ever since it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969. Many Papuans contend that the takeover of the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea was an illegal land grab by Jakarta.
The region, which is in far eastern Indonesia and includes the provinces of Papua and West Papua, is home to the huge Grasberg gold and copper mine operated by the local unit of Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Inc.FCX +1.46% It is Indonesia’s largest taxpayer – Mr. Kalla put the figure at about $1.5 billion last year.
Despite the huge amount of taxes Jakarta collects from Freeport, Mr. Kalla said, the central government gives Papua significantly more tax money than it takes in.
“The Papua people usually say Jakarta robs Papua,” he said. “We subsidize Papua.”
Still, the territory remains largely undeveloped and its people are divided by tribal loyalties.
Aceh and Papua, two provinces at opposite ends of the country, both endured decades of war as rebels sought independence from Indonesia.
Like Aceh, Papua was granted limited autonomy by the central government in 2001 in an attempt to undermine the independence movement. One result, Mr. Kalla said, is that only people born in Papua can hold political office there.
“The principal is, only Papua can run Papua,” he said.
The tsunami that struck Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra 10 years ago was so devastating that the two sides halted the fighting and reached a peace deal eight months later.
In Papua, the conflict continues with occasional violent clashes. Independence activists have been jailed and freedom of expression is limited. Filep Karma, for example, has served 10 years of a 15-year prison sentence for raising the outlawed independence flag; Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience. The government limits access to the province by foreign journalists, human rights workers and academics.
In negotiating for peace, Mr. Kalla said he sees considerable differences between Aceh and Papua.
Unlike the former Aceh rebels, he said, separatists in Papua do not have a single organized military force or a clear command structure. Figuring out whom to negotiate with in Papua, he said, is one of the first issues.
“Papua is different,” he said. “In Papua there is no command. It is very localized. No one knows who is in command.”
Another difference, said Mr. Kalla, is the continuing conflict among many of Papua’s tribes. He said a police presence is required to keep tribes from fighting each other.
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch agreed that a police presence is needed, but said that police have not been effective in preventing clashes among members of different tribes.
He urged President Joko Widodo to end Papua’s isolation and allow access to foreign journalists, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies. He also called on the government to release political prisoners and restore free speech to Papuans.
When it comes to finding Papuan leaders with whom to negotiate, Mr. Harsono said the government should not have any difficulty.