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Jakarta Post

Effects of the Oxford OPM office on Papua

  • Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge and Agustinus Kambuaya

    The Jakarta Post

Chicago, Illinois/Jayapura   /   Wed, May 15, 2013   /  11:39 am

The opening of the Papua separatist organization'€™s Free Papua Movement (OPM) office in Oxford, UK, has been met with mixed reaction. Some are calling on the Indonesian government to take tough actions against the British government while some others are standing up for the right of freedom of expression.

This issue, however, demonstrates the inability of the Indonesian government to counter the second-track diplomacy conducted by exiled pro-independent Papua activist Benny Wenda and more importantly, the impact of this situation on the future of peaceful dialogue between the central government and the Papuan people.

The opening of the OPM office is consistent with Wenda'€™s campaign for Papua independence, which he has lead for more than a decade since he left Papua for the UK in 2002. After establishing the International Parliaments for West Papua (IPWP) in 2008 and traveling to Melanesian countries in the South Pacific (such as Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) to garner support, the Papuan issue has reached the international spotlight, with an increasing number of countries expressing their intention to look into what is happening in the easternmost province.

Benny'€™s latest journey to Melanesian countries followed the lifting of his Interpol Red Notice status in 2012. One of the purposes of his campaign has been to put pressure on the Indonesian government to stop the security approach it has carried out in trying to solve Papua'€™s problems.

The opening of the OPM office in Oxford highlights the weakness of the Indonesian government in exercising its diplomatic instruments. Indonesia is seemingly unable to raise its image as a sovereign state over Papua.

As we know, the government has strengthened its efforts to cooperate with the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) since this group of countries has frequently spoken about human rights conditions in Papua.

However, this growing Indonesian diplomatic effort in the region cannot prevent these countries in the Pacific region from supporting Papua independence.

The Papuan goal was fortified by the MSG'€™s plan to give Papua observer status in the upcoming meeting next month in New Caledonia.

Meanwhile, human rights conditions in Papua have raised the concerns of many international agencies such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as outstanding figures such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and MIT prof. Noam Chomsky, who have urged for the Indonesian government to respect Papuan indigenous rights.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy to look at the Oxford office'€™s impact on the future of peaceful dialogue regarding Papua, which has been sought since 2010.

Initially, the idea of peaceful dialogue was launched by Papuan intellectual Neles Tebay in cooperation with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

This effort resulted in an initiative to use active dialogue to rectify ongoing historical, political, cultural and economic grievances in Papua. Through workshops and public discussion within the province as well as lobbying the central government for support for the enterprise, this strategy pushes for a positive environment in which dialogue can take place via both top-down and bottom-up approaches. However, the challenges are still numerous, including the fragmentation of the large number of parties.

One of the biggest impediments for consolidating a dialogue is bringing all the parties concerned with Papua to sit together and start discussing to find the best solution.

Looking back at Papua'€™s history, there have been many initiatives, from central and local government as well as from the non-governmental organizations, to arrange an active dialogue but these efforts have faced similar obstacles related to political fragmentation among Papuans.

Benny Wenda'€™s involvement as an actor involved in Papua'€™s independence raises concern about the role of the party in the dialogue between the national government and the Papuan people.

Moreover, the existence of OPM'€™s office in Oxford now makes the road to peaceful dialogue more complicated. On one hand, the process faces tough challenges because Benny refuses to take part in the dialogue scheme under the provincial authority of Papua.

On the other hand, until now, the British government has been unable to disband activity within the OPM office because of national laws that respect and guarantee its citizens'€™ rights '€” and Benny is a British citizen.  

In this situation, ignoring the existence of the OPM office is impossible. All the British government can do is make public statements at the diplomatic level to affirm its respect for the sovereignty of Indonesia over Papua.  

Benny and his group will continue to campaign for the separation of Papua at the international level.  His involvement is a real challenge for the Indonesian government and for other parties who are struggling to achieve peaceful dialogue in Papua. Constructive communication, including with those who have been exiled, is more likely to occur through discussions as one united country.

It is hoped that the consternation over the opening of the OPM office does not incite an escalation of conflict in Papua. This concern is all the more grave considering the recent military shootings and killings of several Papuans on May 1, which coincided with the peaceful commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the handover of Papua to the Indonesian government by the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority.

Although it has no direct correlation, the opening the OPM office in Oxford might lead to a high degree of oversight over the Papuan people by the security apparatuses that in turn, could create friction within society.

Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge is a 2012 Arryman fellow at Northwestern University in the US.

Agustinus Kambuaya is a faculty member at the department of politics, Cenderawasih University in

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