Bambang Darmono: All they want is to be free

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  • Five Papuan inmates are given amnesty by Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

    Five Papuan inmates are given amnesty by Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi).

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - President Joko Widodo had good news to announce about Papua on May 9, when he pardoned five local political prisoners. The next day, the president made another announcement, that foreign journalists would be allowed to report from Papua. "This is the government's attempt to stop the stigma and the conflict in Papua," said Jokowi, "We want to make Papua a land of peace."

    The pardon is just the beginning. After that, he promises amnesty to all political prisoners in Papua. "The [pardon] is just the start of the release," Jokowi stressed.

    But to Bambang Darmono, who was chief of the government unit for the acceleration of development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B) during the 2011-2014 period, pardon and amnesty is not an effective solution to the problem in Papua. One stumbling block is the determination of certain Papuan groups who insist on Papua's independence. "The pardon will improve Indonesia's image in the international community. No more than that," said Bambang.

    He said that the approach towards the Papuan people should be to develop the region wholeheartedly, not halfway. "Let us make Papuans feel they can, not how we want [them to be and to do]," he explained.

    In the three years he was assigned to his unit, Bambang has initiated a number of projects to develop Papua, specifically building roads to provide access to previously isolated areas and connect them to other areas. He received funding in 2013 to implement the projects, but nothing the following year. Some of the road construction came to a dead stop.

    Today, his unit no longer exists. But Bambang admits this should not be a problem. He was recently interviewed by Tempo reporters Dwi Wiyana and Nur Alfiah on his experience on working in Papua and Aceh. Excerpts :

    Can lifting the ban on foreign journalists from reporting on Papua be seen as a breakthrough of President Joko Widodo?

    It's a good policy. But something like that was once thought of by former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on February 1, 2012, after he met nine Papuan religious leaders. After they left, the president said, "Consider seriously allowing foreign journalists [to come in]." I was there when he said that. He also suggested that pardons be given to some Papuans.

    So, why wasn't it ever carried out?

    I don't understand the thinking of the president's ministers at that time. They never supported the president's idea. There were other ministers present besides myself. So, I don't think this policy is anything new. However, we don't need to suspect anything, because that would be negative. Like it or not, the Papua problem is more than anything a negative political issue. So, when this happens empathy is not on the state, but on the people.

    How did the government face the negative impact at that time?

    I attended the UN Council on Human Rights sessions twice. There we explained everything about Papua, and we should have done it (allowing foreign journalists in Papua) then. I'm not defending Yudhoyono but I do know that he gave those instructions. But the follow-up depended on his ministers.

    How did you respond to it?

    I helped to push the process. So around November 2014, the Foreign Ministry took a number of foreign journalists, among them from Al-Jazeera, to go to Papua and I explained how things were over there. They went everywhere and met with religious leaders whose views were critical and others. Then they confirmed [the information they got] it with me. I wanted to be fair. If A said something, attribute it to A. I told them about the government's policy, what it had achieved [in Papua] and so forth. Then they understood. So, if Papua had been open way back then I think it would have been good.

    What kind of confirmation did they ask for?

    They asked confirmation about development in Papua because I was head of the UP4B. For example, what kind of education and health programs were implemented for the development of Papua children. They agreed it was a good policy that should be sustainable.

    Jokowi also pardoned five Papuan political prisoners. Reportedly, you had proposed a similar initiative during President Yudhoyono's time.

    I had submitted a letter, not a proposal, containing my views about new approaches towards those classified as political detainees (tapol), although I wouldn't call them that.

    What would you call them?

    The right way is to see them as people involved in separatism. Why did I refuse to describe them as tapol? Because they were tried through a legal process. Political detainees, as I see it, are people imprisoned without due process of law. If they went to jail after they were tried in court, should they be called political prisoners? In my opinion, they are not political prisoners because they were jailed for incidents related to separatism.

    What are the ideas that you submitted to Yudhoyono?

    Essentially, how we should approach the problem. We had tried to approach, for example, people like Philip Karma. But he told us, "If I were released, it means I must admit that I was tried and sentenced, yet I believe I'm not guilty and that I should not be tried according to Indonesian law, because I'm not an Indonesian citizen." That was the language he used.

    (Philip Karma, who once worked at the Papua governor's office, was tried because he mobilized crowds and urged them to raise the Morning Star flag at Trikora Square in Abepura on December 1, 2004. The event was to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). On May 26, 2005, Karma was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a panel of judges of the Jayapura District Court. In his speech pardoning the Papuan political prisoners, Jokowi mentioned Karma, who had asked that his name be excluded from the political detainees being pardoned.)

    How did the presidential palace react to your method of approach?

    Since I had entered a political arena, I was reprimanded. Yet, according to the Presidential Regulation on UP4B, there should be two approaches implemented: the sociopolitical and cultural way to map out issues related to political and human rights issues. The socioeconomic way meanwhile, would be linked to efforts at improving the Papuan people's welfare and the development of Papua itself.

    You did your job according to presidential regulations, yet you were blocked. How did you respond?

    I decided it would be best to just work on the socioeconomic part. I told my colleagues, "I don't know what this government wants." They told me, "Just enjoy it." It's true. If I was given instructions but my mandate was withdrawn, well, that's up to the government. It's not my fault.

    In your opinion, will the pardon and the amnesty resolve the problem in Papua?

    I've said before, whether they're released or not, will not solve the problem. The root of the problem is that activists want Papua to be independent, even though that may not be the case among the grassroots. Let me explain about the Jakarta-Papua dialogue, when Neles Tebay and his associates came to the palace and held talks with President Yudhoyono on February 1, 2012. Neles spoke abut how the Jakarta-Papua dialogue should be carried out. At that time, the president agreed to it, so long as the objective, the format, the agenda and who the participants would be, were clearly understood. That meant the president agreed with their way of thinking so long as those four conditions were met. Once again, it wasn't a case of not wanting to do it. However, if the preconditions could not be agreed on, we could never arrive at a meeting point. We tried a variety of ways. But our friends still refused. Basically, in their view, a Jakarta-Papua dialogue meant a dialogue between the people of Papua with the people of Indonesia.

    And those demands are difficult to meet?

    I was the only Jakarta person who attended the Peace Conference held by the Papua Peace Network at Cenderawasih University on July 5-7, 2011. There were five commissions there, but then a new one was created, the Dialogue Commission. I was asked by Neles Tebay to join that one. There I listened very carefully on what they meant by dialogue. Apparently, what they meant by a Jakarta-Papua dialogue, is one that involves the people of Papua with the people of Indonesia. Something impossible to do.

    Exactly how did they want to do that?

    First, they spoke about who should be the mediator. They wanted Desmond Tutu (South African theologist), the UN secretary-general and so forth. Essentially, they wanted outsiders. Second, who would be the facilitator? Some mentioned the United States, Fiji and others. Third, the venue must be outside Indonesia and fourth, the language should be in English. Fifth and last, who would be the negotiators? At that time, 16 criteria were proposed. I asked whether this was what the Jakarta people expected out of a dialogue. Of course not. It was obvious that they expected an agreement between the peoples of Papua and Indonesia. But in Jakarta, who wanted that?

    Do those demands still apply today?

    They will never change. The desire by certain groups to be free of the Republic of Indonesia has crystallized.

    So the pardon and the amnesty will not guarantee that their attitudes will soften?

    I must say that there is no such guarantee, because they feel that Indonesia does not legally have the right to try and judge them. If they accept the pardon, in their view, that means recognizing Indonesian laws and admitting to Indonesian citizenship. But they don't feel they are Indonesian nationals. Giving them pardon is good, but it will not solve the problem. It will only improve Indonesia's report card to the international community, no more than that.

    Besides the pardon, the president asked the separatist guerrillas to come down from the mountains. What can be done to persuade them to come to carry out a dialogue?

    If we really want to do it, it would be easy. Develop Papua completely, not half-heartedly. They need schools, health services, materials for housing, good jobs and they must be recognized as ordinary people. Carry out a humanitarian approach. I understand and empathize with them. I have contacted many of them in the mountains. But essentially, all they want is to be free.

    Peace was achieved in Aceh. What is the basic difference between the conflicts in Papua and in Aceh?

    In Papua, there are 252 autonomous tribes. This means one tribe does not want to be bested by the other. If we speak about dialogue, it must include all those 252 tribes and more than 40 church denominations. Those are just the Christian groups, not the Catholics yet. They are also autonomous. Then, of course, there are the special interest groups. So if we want a dialogue, who should we dialogue with? These are the conditions that differ with those of Aceh. When the late Hasan Tiro (founder of the Free Aceh Movement GAM) said yes, everyone said yes. I have been in both regions. That's the basic difference between Papua and Aceh, which very few people understand. Moreover, some tend to see Papua from the perspective of Jakarta.

    One of the government's targets is to persuade Goliat Tabuni, leader of the West Papua Freedom Army, to come down from the mountains. If he agrees, can the Papua problem be resolved?

    No. Tabuni is a military man. Do you think Matias Wenda (Chief Commander of the West Papua Revolutionary Army) will agree, will the OPM based in the UK agree? They claim to be fighting from out of the country. But even they are not united. Does Goliat Tabuni command all of them. No, he does not. (*)