Talks between Jakarta and Papua: An Interview with Neles Tebay

Talks between Jakarta and Papua: An Interview with Neles Tebay
PBI Indonesia, May 2010

Father Dr. Neles Tebay, studied Theology at Fajar Timur in Abepura, Papua, and, after his ordination in 1992, obtained a Masters Degree in Manila and a Ph.D. at the Urbania University of Rome. He worked at the Diocesan Office of Jayapura for Justitia et Pax where he has published a large number of articles and brochures. He regularly writes for local and national Indonesian newspapers and has published the books Papua, its problems and possibilities for a peaceful solution in September 2008 and Dialogue Jakarta-Papua, A Papuan perspective in March 2009. Together with Muridan from LIPI (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, Indonesian Institute of Sciences) he is the co-founder of the Papua Peace Network which strives to facilitate peace talks between Jakarta and Papua.

Father Neles, how did you become involved in the preparation of the dialogue together with Muridan?
I started writing articles on the dialogue and on non-violence in 2002/2003. Many of them were published in national and local newspapers such as the Jakarta Post or Bintang Papua. The idea for a Jakarta - Papua dialogue is not a new one and I knew that LIPI supported the idea of a dialogue. Muridan and I have known each other for quite a while and our close personal relationship combined with a common interest in the dialogue led to us working together on this initiative. Following the publication of LIPI’s Papua Road Map, the work on a dialogue became more concrete.

What is the current state of the preparations for public consultations in Papua?
The public consultations, as part of the of the pre-dialogue phase, are completed. These consultations were organised as a result of a planning meeting that was held in the beginning of January, 2010. The goal was to bring Papuan stakeholders and communities together, to get an idea of their understanding of dialogue and create unity. Nine consultation sessions in different regencies have been held since then and we are ready to have more if this is requested. On the 20th/21st of May we will start the evaluation of these sessions and assess what steps will be taken during the next six months.

Do you perceive Otsus (Otonomi Khusus, Special Autonomy) to have succeeded? If not, how can the Jakarta – Papua dialogue rectify these grievances?
During the public consultation sessions Otsus was notdiscussed, but only the dialogue itself. The failure of Otsus is one of the reasons why a dialogue is needed and it could be one of the issues that will be discussed during the dialogue. However, the agenda is not yet set; this will be done during the initial meetings when the two parties finally come together. This is also the case for any other issue that is under discussion for incorporation into the dialogue: anything the two parties accept as valid for discussion can be put on the agenda.

Speaking of other topics and considering human rights violations in Papua, how will a dialogue without reconciliation be possible?
One precondition will be that both parties, as well as the wider Papuan society, are very well prepared. This is what we are trying to achieve during the pre-dialogue Reconciliation can be one of the topics that will be discussed during the dialogue, and maybe an agreement on reconciliation can be found through dialogue.

What are the major challenges of the Jakarta – Papua dialogue?
Mistrust from both sides is one of the major challenges. The Papuan people have lost trust in the Indonesian government. At the same time, the Indonesian government is suspicious towards the aspirations of Papuans. These perceptions, combined with differing hopes and expectations for the dialogue, present a challenge to the organisation of a Jakarta - Papua dialogue. The Papuan people are hoping for independence, whereas the Indonesian government wants to sustain the unity of the nation as one country. The two sides each have their ‘positions’ which have to be respected and acknowledged. The ‘positions’ [of the two sides] are not under discussion, but there are many small issues related to these two positions that can and will be discussed during the dialogue. The demand of the Papuan people for independence will not be discussed, but the reasons why they want independence should be. The question is not about independence, but why do Papuan people want independence.

Papua has a highly diverse population with a wide range of aspirations. What steps have been taken to ensure the dialogue will actually represent the wishes of all the Papuan people?
Papua has about 250 different ethnic groups, many different religious groups and persuasions. Furthermore, OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, the Organisation for Papuan Independence) is not united but has many different factions. Papua is a very fragmented region and that is why we face the challenge of finding people who can represent all Papuan people in the dialogue. We have already discussed this during the public consultation sessions and made people aware that it is necessary that we can show the world that we are ready for the dialogue and that we can agree on representatives.

Why do you believe that the Jakarta - Papua dialogue is important for Papuans?
The dialogue is very important for the people of Papua because it will create space to discuss how to develop public services in order to improve the relationship between the central government and the people of the two provinces of Papua. The dialogue is an opportunity to improve development in Papua and bring together various stakeholders to overcome obstacles. The dialogue is a means for the Papuan people together with the Indonesian government to identify what hinders the development process and improvement of the living conditions in Papua and find alternative solutions.

In your opinion, how strong is support for dialogue within Papua?
The further the process develops, the greater the support. Already, during the public consultation sessions, we were able to clarify and explain a lot to the Papuan people. A better understanding of the process and its aims will contribute to a greater level of support among Papuan people. There are still parties who do not support dialogue, and whose understanding is still different, so it is also important to hear and understand their opinions. There are always opponents and supporters, but in general, support is strong and it is vital that people everywhere talk about the dialogue. It is important that all opinions are discussed.

As a Papuan yourself what would you like to see discussed in a dialogue between Jakarta and Papua?
The two parties involved in the dialogue will decide later what will be discussed. I am glad that the dialogue will happen and that I can contribute to it and work hard for it.

Can you clarify the role of Papuan people living abroad, the diaspora?
Everybody has to be involved and everyone’s opinion has to be heard. No matter if Papuans living abroad support or oppose the dialogue, they have to be consulted and they have to be able to express their opinion, even if they are critics. If they have advice or worries, these have to be taken into account. Most of the Papuans living abroad do so because of the conflict, thus they are affected by the conflict and are still a part of Papua.

How do you see the role of the international community? Is there any possibility for their involvement in the dialogue?
The international community can support the dialogue in many different ways. Their role will change according to the different stages of the dialogue. At the moment, the international community is needed to show support and maintain interest in the dialogue. In this way, they can help to make sure the process continues to move forward. Later, if the parties find agreement, they will have to implement what they have agreed upon. As such, the role of the international community might change. It has yet to be decided by the two parties if the international community can act as a mediator once the dialogue has started. Any such involvement will have to be in accordance with the needs of the parties.

How will you continue to be involved in the development of the Jakarta - Papua dialogue? Is there a clear timeline already?
The dialogue is divided into three phases, the pre-dialogue, the dialogue itself and the post-dialogue. At the moment we are still in the pre-dialogue phase and are preparing the dialogue itself. The timeline is not yet clear. I will be involved in the preparations until representatives are elected and until the Papuan society is ready. The better we prepare the people now, the better the dialogue will be later.