The country's easternmost territory has been a bane of security and development for a long time. With Timor Leste separated from the republic and Aceh peacefully consolidating itself, Papua remains an enigma despite the numerous political initiatives taken at various levels. The Jakarta Post's Ridwan Max Sijabat and Markus Makur look at the latest efforts to resolve the complex issues holding back this resource-rich region from realizing its development potential.
Yet again, on Jan. 24, 2010, shootings occurred in the vicinity of the PT Freeport Indonesia mining site in Timika, Papua. Fortunately, no one was killed.
But the aftermath resulted in customary finger pointing.
The pro-independence Presidium of Papuan Council (PDP) and the West Papuan National Authority (WPNA) have been quick to blame the continued aggravation on the Indonesian Military's (TNI) use of a "militaristic intelligence" approach to handling problems in the province.
"Papua is becoming tense. People are afraid to go out of their homes," PDP chairman Tom Beanal told the Post.
"Authorities know what's going on, but turn a blind eye while maintaining a repressive militaristic approach," he claimed.
Every incident, it seems, is rubbing salt on the open wound of injustice and unresolved issues blighting Papua over the past four decades - from militarism to human rights; social injustice to economic exploitation; autonomy to independence.
Franz Kapissa, a member of the WPNA whose existence was endorsed by the second congress of the Papuan Customs Council (DAP) in Jayapura in 2000, places the root problems back to what he sees as the controversial referendum, called the Papuan People's Free Choice (Pepera) in 1969, and most recently the failure of special autonomy to "Indonesianize" Papua and its 1.5 million indigenous inhabitants.
The absence of significant progress in the past four decades, he claims, was a measurable parameter showing the failure of integration "since the main problems of poverty, backwardness and human rights still linger".
"Papua will continue to be an issue without a solution," he said.
The most identifiable form of secessionism emerged during the New Order era through the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The perceived threat of the OPM led to frequent campaigns by the TNI through much of the 32-year New Order rule.
In the wake of the reform era in 1998 and the events in then East Timor in 1999, the political voice of Papuans grew louder. The government rejected calls for an East Timor style referendum and instead in 2001 granted special autonomy.
The tension slightly abated when then president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid took the initiative by recognizing the Papuan people's communal rights, allowing them to celebrate Papuan day by raising the Morning Star flag and "rebaptized" the land by renaming Irian Jaya with the more colloquial Papua.
Nine years into special autonomy the voices of discontent remain unsettled. There has been marginal improvement in welfare despite the annual allocation of an estimated Rp 5 trillion to the special autonomy fund. Since then, the territory has also been controversially carved into two separate provinces.
While the situation seems to be at a standstill, quiet talks have begun behind the scenes between Jakarta and Papuan representatives.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has tasked the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) to make a complete inventory of the problems and design a roadmap that could ultimately lead to what has been described as a "comprehensive solution" to the Papua problem.
Muridan S. Widjojo, a LIPI researcher who has been in Papua for two years to prepare the roadmap, stressed that the issue is far too complex to simply be viewed merely from a "security perspective".
Without going into specifics, Muridan said that a permanent, comprehensive and elegant solution must be immediately sought to address the complex issue in a bid to maintain Indonesia's sovereignty over the province.
But as in the past, any initiative has its detractors, and LIPI's own efforts may not be receiving the full blessing or coordination from other elements within government.
Over the past seven months the Indonesian Intelligence Agency (BIN) have held their own series of talks with pro-independence Papuan figures, facilitated by the Coordinating Political, legal and Security Affairs Ministry.
Another approach involves the Indonesian Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), National Defense Board (Wantannas) and the Home Ministry.
Tom and Franz confirmed the behind the scenes meetings but insisted that limited, if any, progress had been made. Such was the apparent frustration that Papuan figures on Dec. 1, 2009, issued a petition to the President, asking for an amendment to the constitution that could pave the way for at least three alternatives in resolving the Papua issue.
According to the petition obtained by the Post, the three alternatives were: creating a federal national state, one nation two systems or confederation.
Papua native and Golkar Party legislator Yorrys Raweyai squarely blamed the Papua issue on the central government and the TNI, whom he said showed no political will to deploy a humane approach and achieve true change in Papua.
"After 47 years, Jakarta has failed to *Indonesianize' Papua's indigenous people. The mounting demand for separation now comes from young Papuans born when the territory was already integrated as part of Indonesia.
"*Indonesia* did not learn from its mistakes in East Timor," he lamented.
Yorrys, also a member of the defense, information and foreign affairs commission at the House of Representatives, said his commission would back efforts by LIPI.
"The central government should suspend military operations. It should stop making Timika a training ground for 1,700 elite soldiers and drop plans to establish a new military command in West Papua," he appealed.
While some contend that separation or a stronger autonomy is the answer, others insist that it is not.
Jayapura regent Habel Melkias Suwae maintained that the integration issue was final and the challenge was how to carry out economic development to improve the people's social welfare under special autonomy.
"Like Timor Leste, Papua will fall into crisis and be in a stateless condition if it is separated from Indonesia," he argued.