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Jakarta Post

Editorial: Papua more than a territory

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Wed, May 8, 2013   /  11:30 am

As always, Jakarta has reacted strongly to a foreign government giving room to people aspiring for an independent Papua. The recent opening of a Free West Papua (OPM) office in the British city of Oxford is the latest event to have ignited diplomatic tension between Indonesia and another country.

To Indonesia, the presence of the OPM office is a slap in the face due to its sovereignty over the nation'€™s easternmost region which the world has recognized since the United Nations-supervised Act of Free Choice resulted in Papua'€™s integration into Indonesia in 1969. The UK, along with Australia, Papua New Guinea and the US, where the campaign for Papua independence has spread untroubled, understands well this history and respects Indonesia'€™s territorial integrity, but cannot restrict a movement exercising what it regards as its freedom of expression.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa summoned British Ambassador Mark Canning on Monday to file a diplomatic protest, in particular because the attendance of Oxford Mayor Mohammed Abbasi, his predecessor Elise Benjamin and a UK parliament member from Oxford Andrew Smith at the opening of the OPM office appeared to contradict London'€™s commitment to acknowledging Papua as an integral part of Indonesia.

Nothing worse, such as a nationwide movement to ban British goods and investment, is expected to follow the diplomatic brouhaha. The stakes are too high for Indonesia for it to bow to calls from some nationalist-minded activists for expulsion of, for example, British Petroleum from the gas'€“rich West Papua regency of Bintuni Bay.

Indonesia'€™s noisy protests against foreign governments over the Papua issue sounds like barking up the wrong trees as such moves will never solve the problem. Papuan independence fighters in exile will instead enjoy the free publicity from the diplomatic uproar and step up their campaign across the world. Reports have it that OPM plans to set up another office in Germany.

The solution to the nagging problem of Papua rests solely with policymakers here in Jakarta. For decades natural resources in Papua have been extracted without fair payback. Jakarta has responded to local people'€™s grievances over this rampant injustice with an iron fist as evident in the prevailing security approach in place there.

In the eyes of the Jakarta elites, Papua is no more than a precious territory they have to defend under the guise of national unity. The fact that poverty still plagues Papua despite its wealth of natural resources is testament to Jakarta'€™s ignorance of human development there.

The special autonomy granted to Papua and West Papua provinces has certainly brought in trillions of rupiah in cash from Jakarta, but the fact that the two provinces remain on the list of the country'€™s poorest regions should raise concerns about the lax, or absence of, scrutiny by Jakarta of the use of these massive funds.

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