The Jakarta Post
Several quarters have persistently been calling for dialogue between the government and representatives of Papuan people, including resistance groups, to end the violence in the natural resource-rich province once and for all and turn it into a land of peace.
Such a noble vision, however, has remained elusive, not only because of the lukewarm responses from past and current governments, but also because of the sporadic acts of violence that only beget more violence and, hence, a cycle of revenge that nobody knows how to stop. The latest report of the killing of at least 24 workers of state construction company PT Istaka Karya in the highland regency of Nduga shows Jakarta has not completely won the hearts and minds of Papuans, despite the many initiatives the government has undertaken, especially during the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Jokowi has translated his attention to Papua into massive infrastructure development in the region, particularly a trans-Papua road to free remote villages from decades-long isolation. He has also implemented a one-price fuel policy that is meant to bring some economic equality to Papua and West Papua and he visits the region frequently.
The attack on workers constructing bridges for the trans-Papua road by members of a West Papua National Liberation Army faction led by Egianus Kogoya on Sunday, according to police, is expected to undermine the government’s new approach and its hard work. This approach would take years to bear fruit, but in the meantime it proves the commitment of the government to help the once forgotten Papua close its gap with other parts of the country.
Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono said the construction of 35 bridges on the 278-kilometer road that is to connect Wamena and Mamugu would be suspended indefinitely following the incident, which was reportedly triggered by a worker who photographed a group of people gathering to commemorate the struggle for Papuan independence on Saturday.
A joint police and military operation has been launched to hunt down the armed group responsible for the killings, probably the deadliest by such a group in Papua so far. This is exactly where the government needs to exercise caution because in the past security measures against alleged Papuan separatist group members were prone to human rights abuses. There have been allegations, sometimes proven, of atrocities against civilians accused of abetting the separatists. Such reports have arisen in part because Papua is practically closed to the outside world, despite President Jokowi’s policy to open it up.
Use of violence is not the answer to the violence. Now that the police are holding a group responsible for the Sunday killings, the government must focus on law enforcement rather than on authorizing a security operation over which the public can hardly demand accountability.
With the transfer of special autonomy funds to Papua ending in 2021, security problems may escalate. A dialogue to comprehensively address the Papuan paradox — which suffers poverty, illiteracy and injustice despite its rich natural resources — therefore remains the best solution to creating lasting peace.