Papuan Resistance Leader Stuns Bakrie By Referring

Papuan Resistance Leader Stuns Bakrie By Referring to Indonesia as 'Neighbor'

Jakarta Globe
Fidelis E. Satriastanti

What was supposed to be a public relations exercise by Aburizal Bakrie, the coordinating minister for People's Welfare, didn't go according to script on Friday.

Government officials had claimed that Papuan pro-independence leader Nicolaas Jouwe, back in Indonesia after more than 40 years in exile in the Netherlands, would renounce Papua's struggle for independence against what he claimed was an Indonesian occupation of resource-rich Papua Province.

He didn't.

"It has been 40 years now and I think it is time to establish a new relationship with the neighboring country [Indonesia], which is the biggest country in Southeast Asia," he said.

The reference to Indonesia as Papua's neighbor resulted in stunned silence at a news conference attended by Bakrie, Indonesian Ambassador to the Netherlands JE "Fany" Habibie, senior government officials and local and international journalists.

The conference was then cut short, allowing no time for journalists to ask questions. One Dutch reporter did ask if Nicolaas would end his struggle for Papuan independence, but an official raised his arm and said no more questions would be accepted.

Earlier, he told those gathered that he was not renouncing the struggle for independence but was prepared to help open the door for dialogue with the government over the issue.

"We need to have a dialogue because we are two nations that have upheld our identity and kept it so for many years," he said.

The last surviving founder of the Free Papua Movement, or OPM, Jouwe, now 84, has been in exile in the Netherlands since 1962 and became the nation's adviser for Papuan affairs. He is also believed to have designed the Bintang Kejora, or Morning Star, flag used as a symbol for the movement. The government has outlawed the OPM and its flag.

Jouwe said a dialogue with Indonesia was needed because of the geopolitical and geographic closeness between them.

"We need to pay more attention to the welfare of the Papuan people, who are currently struggling to handle the outbreak of diseases like malaria," he said.

Meanwhile, Bakrie said on Friday that the government would approach the Papuan people by addressing welfare issues, specified as an area of concern by the 2007 presidential instructions on special autonomy.

"Special autonomy stresses that the following welfare issues need to be handled: education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and affirmative action," he said. "We also want to improve reconciliation efforts with the groups that still reject unity with Indonesia, in order to encourage them to build Papua with us."

However, Jouwe said that judging by the continued substandard welfare of Papua, special autonomy did not appear to have been a success.

"I need to see what kind of special autonomy or authority they have offered, but I am not sure about this one," he said, referring to different models for autonomy. He cited Hong Kong's case as a good example of autonomy that could possibly be implemented in Papua.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Alexander Jouwe, Nicolaas's son, said his father's visit did not mean he had surrendered his fight for Papua's independence.

"My father was impressed by how the government, especially President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, approached him," he said. "That is the first time the government has approached him since he was exiled."

Jouwe expects to fly this weekend from Jakarta to his birthplace in Kayu Pulau, a coastal area near Jayapura, the capital city of Papua Province.

"He will meet prominent figures there, and of course, we are going to visit his birthplace," Nicholas said. "However, we do not know about his appointment to meet the president; that would be up to the government."

Indonesia claimed Papua from the Dutch colonial administration in 1963, and in 1969 it conducted a UN-backed referendum, which has since been widely criticized. The "Act of Free Choice" involved 1,025 handpicked men, many of whom later testified that the safety of their families had depended on whether they voted in favor of occupation.