TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Rejecting an extension of special autonomy status, a number of groups in Papua have demanded a referendum. The government must prioritize dialogue.
THE government must not be rash in its response to the rejection by a number of groups in Papua of an extension to the special autonomy status. Their demands for the right to determine their own future should not be answered with repressive measures. Like a vicious circle, violence will only give rise to more violence.
The roots of the problem in Papua are injustice and discrimination. As long as these problems are not addressed, special autonomy funds of whatever size that Jakarta sends to Papua will be nothing more than a sweetener. Since 2002, a year after Papua was given special autonomy status, the government has paid out Rp126.99 trillion, far higher than the average of the special allocation funds paid out to other provinces in Indonesia. But, as admitted by a government official, the utilization of the special autonomy funds in Papua -- as seen from education, health and infrastructure indicators -- is far below most areas with similar characteristics.
President Joko Widodo has shown concern for Papua by passing the one-fuel-price policy and pushing for the construction of the trans-Papua highway. But this is not enough. Despite prioritizing a welfare approach, the government has not sent many teachers or health care workers to Papua. What has happened is exactly the opposite. The government has sent more soldiers and police officers, especially when there have been disturbances there.
It is this security approach that often leads to tension and frequently results in human rights violations. The perpetrators may differ, but the victims are always the same: the people of Papua. Following the fatal shooting of Pastor Yeremias Zanambani in the middle of September, the military accused militias of being responsible. However, Yeremias' wife and local people say that it was the military that was behind it. Although it is possible that one day the shooter will be detained, Yeremias and other victims will never return.
The government must realize that the security approach to resolving the Papua problem has given rise to people like Benny Wenda, a Papuan activist now living in Britain. The arrest of Benny at the end of 2000 on charges of inciting people to attack the police station in Abepura has resulted in suspicions that the government was trying to muzzle Benny as he had often called for a referendum on independence. After escaping from jail and obtaining asylum in Britain, Benny stepped up his campaign for Papuan independence on the international stage.
Now the young generation of Papuans have joined together and are using the issue of special autonomy to ask for a referendum. As expected, the death of Pastor Yeremias has fueled their demonstrations. The government must be more introspective and not repeat the mistakes of the past. If the security approach is tried again, conflict and violence could spread. The people there will continue to suffer, and the government will face its own problems if the international community takes an interest in the Papuan crisis.
There must be dialog between the government and those who oppose special autonomy. The government must withdraw the security forces from Papua. Meanwhile the militias must discard their weapons. However long and exhausting it may be, dialogue is always better then never-ending killings.