In Memory of the 1999 Papua Dialogue
The Jakarta Post
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Thirteen years ago today, Papua’s “Team 100” was invited by then
president BJ Habibie to hold a national dialogue to discuss the Papua
issue at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.
It was no ordinary event. On the contrary, it was an extraordinary
gathering of Papua’s leaders prompted by a widespread call for
independence in the nation’s easternmost province.
It was marked by public demonstrations and the raising of the Papuan
flag in a several cities.
All of this met with a harsh response from security forces. All of
this occurred in the wake of the euphoria of Indonesia’s transition to
During the meeting 13 years ago, Team 100 leader Tom Beanal bluntly
expressed Papuans’ desire to form an independent state separate from
This unexpected call shocked Habibie, as well as his Cabinet, who
responded by asking Tom to return home and think things over.
The meeting did not result in anything meaningful. However, it became
a milestone for Papuans, who presented their political aspirations
with dignity and honor.
It must be underlined that none of Team 100 were arrested or charged
with treason, as is now happening with the president of the so-called
Federal Republic of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, and four of his
followers who are being tried for alleged treason and are facing life
Thirteen years on, Papua’s cry for dialogue remains loud. In response,
the Yudhoyono administration has held private and formal meetings with
Papuan church leaders twice.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also appointed two special
representatives, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bambang Darmono and Dr. Farid
Hussain, to address the issue of dialogue through different
What next in the last two years of Yudhoyono’s presidency? What can we
expect as follow up? Will we see political negotiations, as we have
seen in Aceh? All these questions remain unanswered.
As we know, dialogue is not the only game in town. Some Papuans do not
share this view and have publicly expressed their determination to
pursue international legal mediation to bring independence to Papuan.
However, it remains unclear to the public how this option could be
achieved. Others have been advocating for Indonesia to recognize the
sovereign state of Papua.
These advocates have been charged with treason and now are standing trial.
In daily life, we are confronted with other questions that. For
instance, what will happen when Papua finally holds its long-delayed
Can the continuing violence in Papua’s highlands and the area near PT
Freeport Indonesia’s operations be terminated?
The violence in those areas have caused a lot of tension, damage and
deaths that urgently need to be addressed.
On the government side, we also observe a number of different
interpretations on how to conduct a dialogue.
One approach holds that the dialog should be about Papua and not
between Jakarta and Papua, as proposed by many voices in Papua. The
logic of this argument is that Papua is part of Indonesia.
So the polarization of Jakarta and Papua will not help solve the
problem. Rather, all stakeholders in Papua should have an equal
opportunity to discuss the fate of Papua.
Following the Aceh model, other proponents argue that negotiations
should be bipartisan, involving representatives from the Indonesian
government and their Papuan counterparts. But this approach still
augurs the question of who Papua’s representatives are and whether
Papuans can be united.
Another approach asserts limits on any negotiations on the territorial
integrity of Indonesia while preparing to offer a wide range of
concessions, including granting amnesty for political prisoners,
reviewing the 1969 Act of Free Choice, addressing human rights abuses
and reviewing the implementation of special autonomy for Papua.
The last approach co-opts the whole point of dialogue by creating
parallel events to discuss the same issues, albeit infused with
completely different notions.
In the long run this may cause distraction and confusion if
negotiations between Jakarta and Papua are realized.
Obviously, for the government, a Papuan dialogue is not the only game
in town either. The Yudhoyono administration confronts many equally
pressing issues, such as its energy policy, which has already sparked
strong opposition from political opponents.
Meanwhile, unresolved corruption scandals continue to undermine the
government’s legitimacy and its capacity to deliver public service.
Nevertheless, if we look back to 1999, Papua’s call for dialogue has
not been resolved after 13 years, whereas preliminary engagement
between Jakarta and Papua has signaled something positive.
It is time to take advantage of the goodwill from both sides despite
all differences, which are common in any political settings.
The window of opportunity under the current administration will not be
open for much longer and none of us can guarantee whether the next
administration will still be willing to engage in dialogue.
It is also the time for Yudhoyono to conclude his final term by
contributing to Indonesia’s democracy and resolving the problem of
Papua once for all.
The writer is a Franciscan friar and former director of the Office of
Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Jayapura, Papua. He is
currently pursuing a doctorate at the Australian National University.