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Is Indonesia about to offer a referendum to West Papua?


INDONESIAN intelligence agencies went into overdrive in recent days to cushion the spillover effects anticipating an announcement by President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo during this week’s visit to West Papua that he will offer a referendum to decide the future of the Melanesian province.

Papuan leaders have been calling for a referendum to decide the province’s future since the ‘Papuan Spring’ of 2000.

Jokowi (pictured here in contemplative pose)) has to walk a fine line on the issue of allowing Papuans a plebiscite which could threaten to break up the unitary state of Indonesia.

There are other secessionist movements seeking to separate from Indonesia in 17 other regions of the Indonesian Archipelago, and the referendum option for West Papua to decide its political future and separate from Indonesia could create momentum for other regions to follow suit.

According to a security assessment, which faults President Jokowi for accommodating Papuan aspirations for self–determination, the promise of a referendum formed Jokowi’s main campaign platform in West Papua during the Indonesian presidential elections.

Political analyst Arbi Muslims has confirmed the policy shift is already in the pipeline.

"If you look at it, the referendum proposal had been circulated when Joko Widodo built his presidential campaign on the promise for a referendum for Papuans,” he told Indonesian national security organs last July.

“President Jokowi is trying to prove something now. His solution to deal with outstanding issues at the time came down to the promise of referendum for Papua."

Calls for a referendum picked up a lot of momentum in the highlands of West Papua when Papuans took President Jokowi’s word that, after he got elected, they would decide their own political future to continue as part of Indonesia or to separate.

“The calls for referendum for Papua are final, and Indonesia must anticipate turmoil if the option for referendum is delayed or denied any further," Arbi Muslims said.

Schoolchildren killed by TNI soldiers in Paiai, December 2014However he added that Jokowi was yet to clarify the conditions of his offer and the ramifications for Indonesia.

"President Jokowi should provide the details and clarify the deal reached with Papuans in return for the outstanding issues affecting West Papua to be resolved through the promise of referendum,” he said.

The Indonesian Parliament has yet to resolve how to deal with the West Papua issue and says it does not have enough information on the referendum.

But according to Arbi Muslims, the Indonesian parliament needs to move fast.

“Papua is a very sensitive issue and many foreign interests are stakeholders in the Papua Conflict, and are manipulating the outcome,” he said.

For example, the United States has economic interests which are best served by having Indonesia’s occupation continue in West Papua and keep it as part of Indonesia because of the great wealth of natural resources.

West Papua has the largest tract of rain forest outside the Amazon, the world’s largest gold and copper deposit and it has one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits.

But West Papuans are not reaping the benefits from this economic development. They are among the poorest people in Indonesia as are their health standards, including a huge HIV epidemic.

Indonesia is not taking care of the West Papuan people, who have been struggling for self-determination for 54 years in circumstances where it’s one of the world’s forgotten conflicts.

The history of West Papua and its long struggle for self-determination from Indonesia is a story of failed decolonisation. In the 1960s, West Papua was due to be given independence as a former Dutch colony. Then Indonesia invaded.

As a result of negotiations between the US, the Netherlands and Indonesia, Indonesia was to take custody of the territory on condition it gave a vote for self-determination. That vote for self-determination took place in 1969 in sham circumstances where a handful of West Papuan leaders were forced to vote under threat of violence.

Since becoming part of Indonesia against their will and in breach of international law, the West Papuan people have suffered widespread human rights abuses.

It is now 2015, and President Obama’s record on the West Papua issue continues to fall short of the expectations of Papuans. He recalls in his book, Dreams of My Father, the stories his stepfather told him about the oppression of the West Papuan people. And he took lessons from that.

His stepfather had said to him, "If you can’t be strong, find friends to be strong, because stronger people will take your land and take your women and take your resources." Obama has direct personal experience of how devastating the Indonesian military occupation was through his own stepfather.

When he came into the presidency, Obama said, because of his experience, that he would be able to say things to Indonesia that other leaders had not been able to. But on West Papua, he has failed.

Yet, as the country that brokered the deal between Indonesia and the Dutch which sealed West Papua’s fate as part of Indonesia, the US has a historical duty to do the right thing

Jokowi is courting the destruction of his own nation if the referendum option for West Papua is put away. West Papua’s history of integration into Indonesia stands to be rectified. The evidence of Indonesia’s failure to formalise the decolonisation thesis after the Dutch left demands a verdict today.


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Corney Korokan Alone

Whether Indonesia plans to keep the atrocities and her repressive iron fist against the progress of the native land owning people of West Papua, the international movement is not waiting.

It is time!

Soon, Indonesia will let my people go free - because 54 years of illegal occupation is too long and 500,000 people's blood is too much to ignore in this 21st century digital world.

We, the people of the conscience all over the world are not going to give up.

Persistence is going to drive this momentum forward until the Melanesian land owning people of West Papua are given back their forefathers' land.

Peter Kranz

UK Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn calls for democracy in West Papua. Seems he has more guts than any Australian leader.

"UK Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn has spoken out about the plight of the West Papuan people and supported a push for democratic reform in the Indonesian province.

Corbyn calls for political strategy that brings "recognition to the plight" of West Papuans and "forces it onto a political agenda"

Speaking at a meeting of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua at the House of Commons, Mr Corbyn said it was time the West Papuan people were able to make their own choice about their political future.

"It's about a political strategy that brings to worldwide recognition the plight of the people of West Papua, that forces it onto a political agenda, that forces it to the UN, and ultimately allows the people of West Papua to make a choice about the kind of government they want and the kind of society in which they want to live," he told the meeting.

The Labour leader described the meeting as historic.

Speakers included MPs, ministers and political leaders from the UK, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands."

Johnny Blades

Cannot see this referendum happening. The Indonesian lawmakers are not open to this idea at all, and the security forces especially would be against any such thing.

Chris Overland

I have just finished reading Ian Bremmer's thought provoking book "Every Nation for Itself" (Portfolio Penguin, 2012), the central premise of which is that we are now in an era when no single nation is able or willing to be the "global policeman".

If Bremmer is right (and I think he is), then this bodes very ill for places like West Papua.

Basically, there is no powerful country able or willing to pressure Indonesia into giving West Papuans the opportunity to vote on whether they wish to remain part of Indonesia or go it alone or, perhaps, in confederation with PNG.

There are powerful forces within Indonesia, including the military, who have no intention whatsoever of allowing a repeat of what they regard as the East Timor debacle.

Why would Indonesia's ruling elites sanction the very real risk of losing control of a resource rich province like West Irian, not to mention giving encouragement to other separatist forces within Indonesia?

Also, who are the West Papuans going to appeal to for help? The UN? Not that infamous collection of dictators, thugs and hypocrites. The USA? I don't think so: it is a country turning in and upon itself, not worrying about freedom and justice anymore. The Chinese? Don't even think about it.

As a consequence, regardless of President Jokowi's supposed promise, I would be amazed if the topic of a referendum was even mentioned except to dismiss it out of hand.

No, to paraphrase one of Mao Zedong's famous aphorisms in his Little Red Book, the path to self determination for West Papuans can only come through the barrel of a gun.

That can only happen if a powerful state sponsor is willing and able to supply the weapons, training and support that any prospective revolutionaries need.

I don't see that happening anytime soon in a world where it is truly every nation for itself.

Michael Dom

A good story Boniface, thank you.

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