Indonesia: Communal Tensions in Papua

Thursday, July 3, 2008

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Asia Report N°154 16 June 2008

Indonesian Papua has seen periodic clashes between pro-independence supporters and goverment forces, but conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could also erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed. Violence was narrowly averted in Mano­kwari and Kaimana in West Papua province in 2007, but bitterness remains on both sides. The key fac­tors are continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both religious communities that have hardened the perception of the other as enemy; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua. National and local officials need to ensure that no discriminatory local regulations are enacted, and no activities by exclusivist religious organisations are supported by government funds.
The Manokwari drama, played out over more than two years, illustrates some of the changes. It started in 2005, when Christians mobilised to prevent an Islamic centre and mosque from being built on the place where German missionaries brought Christianity to Papua in the mid-nineteenth century. Muslim anger went beyond Papua; many Indonesian Muslims, newly conscious of the history of Muslim traders in the area, saw Islam as Papua’s original religion and found the rejection of the mosque intolerable. Local church leaders, seeing the reaction, believed they needed to strengthen Manokwari’s Christian identity and in 2007 drafted a regulation for the local parliament that would have infused the local goverment with Christian values and symbols and discriminated against Muslims in the process. It was never enacted but generated a furore in Muslim communities across Indonesia and increased the sense of siege on both sides. It remains to be seen how a new draft that began to be circulated in late May 2008 will be greeted.
It is not just in Manokwari, however, that the communities feel themselves under threat. Many indigenous Christians feel they are being slowly but surely swamped by Muslim migrants at a time when the central government seems to be supportive of more conservative Islamic orthodoxy, while some migrants believe they face discrimination if not expulsion in a democratic system where Christians can exercise “tyranny of the majority”. The communal divide is overlain by a political one: many Christian Papuans believe autonomy has not gone nearly far enough, while many Muslim migrants see it as a disaster and are fervent supporters of centralised rule from Jakarta.
In some areas latent tensions have been kept under control by pairing a Papuan Christian district head with a non-Papuan Muslim deputy, with political and economic spoils divided accordingly. That may work in areas like Merauke, where the migrant population has already exceeded 50 per cent, but is not a solution where the majority feels itself under threat.
Where the risk of conflict is high, indigenous Papuan Muslims, largely concentrated in the Bird’s Head region of north western Papua, can play a bridging role, particularly through a new organisation, Majelis Muslim Papua. This organisation is both firmly committed to universal Islamic values and deeply rooted in Papuan culture and traditions. They have a demonstrated capacity to cool communal tensions, working with their Christian counterparts. But the indigenous Muslim community is being divided, too, as more and more have opportunties to study Islam outside Papua and come home with ideas that are at odds with traditional practices. It would be in the interests of all concerned to support a network of state Islamic institutes in Papua that could produce a corps of indigenous religious scholars and reinforce the moderation long characteristic of Papuan Muslims.
Several mechanisms are available for dialogue among religious leaders in Papua, including the working group on religion of the Papuan People’s Council (Maje­lis Rakyat Papua, MRP), a body set up to preserve Papuan rights and traditions, but they do not necessarily have any impact at the grassroots. More effective might be programs designed to identify com­munal hotspots and work out non-religious programs that could benefit both communities.
To the Central Government:
1. Avoid supporting faith-based activities with an overtly political agenda, so as not to exacerbate existing problems, and instruct the armed forces and police to ensure that Papua-based personnel are not seen as taking communal sides.
2. Identify new approches to addressing communal tensions at the grassroots level, going beyond the often ineffectual promotion of interfaith dialogue among elites.
3. Work with the provincial governments to support the State Islamic Institute (STAIN) in Jayapura and facilitate close links with the State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta to ensure that Papua develops its own indigenous scholars and teachers able to interpret universal Islamic values in ways that are in harmony rather than conflict with customary traditions.
To Local Governments:
4. Ensure that government funding of or contributions to religious activities are transparent and independently audited, with amounts and recipients easily available on websites or in public documents.
5. Avoid funding any groups that preach exclusivity or enmity toward other faiths.
6. Ensure public debate on the percentage of jobs for Papuans and the impact on further in-migration of non-Papuans before agreeing to any further administrative division.
7. Reject discriminatory local regulations.
8. Work with donors to identify areas of high tension where conflict might be defused by non-religious projects involving cooperation for mutual benefit across communities.
To Donors:
9. Support conflict-resolution training for Papua-based organisations, including the Majelis Muslim Papua and the religious working group of the Papua People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP).
Jakarta/Brussels, 16 June 2008

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Papua: The Dangers of Shutting Down Dialogue
Asia Briefing N°47 23 March 2006
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There is serious risk the long-awaited Papuan People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP) is about to collapse, only five months after it was established, ending hopes that it could ease tensions between Papuans and the central government. The MRP was designed as the centrepiece of the autonomy package granted the country’s easternmost province in 2001. Almost as soon as it came into being, however, it was faced with two major crises – stalled talks over the legal status of West Irian Jaya, the province carved out of Papua in 2003, and violence sparked by protests over the giant Freeport mine – while Jakarta marginalised its mediation attempts. To revive genuine dialogue and salvage the institution before autonomy is perhaps fatally damaged, President Yudhoyono should meet the MRP in Papua, thus acknowledging its importance, while the MRP should move beyond non-negotiable demands and offer realistic policy options to make autonomy work.
Papuan leaders had envisaged the MRP as a representative body of indigenous leaders that would protect Papuan culture and values in the face of large-scale migration from elsewhere in Indonesia and exploitation of Papua’s natural resources. Jakarta-based politicians saw it as a vehicle for Papuan nationalism and deliberately diluted its powers, then delayed its birth. By the time it emerged, the province had been divided into two, many Papuans were disillusioned with autonomy and some were already questioning how the MRP could function under such circumstances.
The MRP’s authority remains uncertain. If it can manoeuvre its way through these two crises, it may yet be able to take on other outstanding grievances and become what Papua has always lacked, a genuinely representative dialogue partner with Jakarta. If it fails, not only will its own legitimacy be diminished, but local resentment against the central government will almost certainly increase.
The signs are not good. As negotiations between the MRP and the central government were underway to resolve the disputed legal status of West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat, IJB), Jakarta suddenly authorised gubernatorial elections there, cementing its status as a separate province outside autonomy. The MRP, despite its hard-line rhetoric, had begun to show signs of willingness to compromise, but rather than reciprocate, the central government sidelined it. The MRP is now grappling with whether continued negotiations are possible, and if not, whether it should disband. But with large local turnout in the West Irian Jaya elections, and the local support that implies for the province, the bigger question is whether the MRP is still a relevant actor.
Meanwhile, student-led demonstrations in Papua and by Papuan students in Java and Sulawesi demanding closure of the Freeport mine in Timika and the withdrawal of military forces there, which had been escalating since late February, culminated in a violent clash in Abepura on 16 March, in which four police and an air force officer were killed and several civilians seriously injured. The subsequent police sweeps have been heavy handed, and the atmosphere remains tense. The MRP's attempts to engage the central government on this issue were quickly brushed aside.
Successful MRP mediation of these tensions is becoming more crucial as the chances of it happening become more remote. The MRP has not made its own case any easier but it is now up to the central government to bring it back on board. If sufficient trust can be reestablished to resume dialogue, a compromise on West Irian Jaya is still possible, building on the baseline consensus reached by the central government and top Papuan provincial leaders in late November 2005. The essence of that agreement was that Papua would remain a single economic, social, and cultural entity, regardless of the administrative division. That is, there would be a single MRP, and the autonomy funds from the central government and revenues raised in each province from resource exploitation – from the gold and copper of the Freeport mine in Papua and from the BP natural gas project in West Irian Jaya – would be shared by both.
Since the elections, the MRP’s bargaining position has been further weakened, but it is critically important now to reach a compromise on the issue – not just in the interests of resolving two crises, but to make the MRP a functioning institution. Failure to bolster the MRP would almost certainly deal a fatal blow to an autonomy package in which many Papuans are already losing faith. Given the current volatility in Papua, it is in everyone’s interests to make sure this does not happen.
Jakarta/Brussels, 23 March 2006

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