Subject: ST by McBeth: Giving Voice to Papua's Aspirations

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Straits Times (Singapore)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Giving Voice to Aspirations

by John McBeth, Senior Writer

IN BALI - AMERICAN-SAMOAN congressman Eni Faleomavaega is built like a rugby prop, with a taste for ice cream, and has a sunny South Pacific disposition and a broad smile to match.

But the chairman of the US House foreign relations subcommittee for Asia-Pacific and the global environment lost some of that smile after a recent pioneering visit to Papua - a three-day trip that did not meet his expectations and almost turned into a disaster.

While he may be a non-voting member of Congress, Mr Faleomavaega, until recently, had been a vocal and long-standing supporter of Papua independence.

Indonesian officials are well aware of that, particularly President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who personally signed off on the congressman's visit last month after he had been denied entry to Papua last July.

Yet the Papua province's capital of Jayapura was cut from his agenda, he failed to meet many ordinary Papuans and, during the course of a whirlwind stop in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua, protesters pursued him to the airport and nearly swamped his plane.

Later in Bali, where he was attending the United Nations climate change conference, he did not disguise his unhappiness.

'To tell you frankly, while I appreciated the visit, there was no opening,' he told The Straits Times. 'Since I did not go to Jayapura, as far as I'm concerned I have not visited Papua.'

Mr Faleomavaega softened his stand on independence after his much-publicised July meeting with Dr Yudhoyono, during which the President outlined his plans to develop the province and urged him to give the 2001 Special Autonomy Law a chance.

He was barred from Papua then because of security concerns linked to the Papua Traditional Council, which was holding its second congress. The authorities apparently feared his visit would give independence activists an ideal stage to press their demands for self-determination.

While he got the green light this time, he was only permitted to meet Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu on the island of Biak, off Papua's northern coast. The two-hour session, he complained, was all too short.

Hundreds of people waiting to greet Mr Faleomavaega saw little of him before he was whisked away, forcing even Papua People's Council Speaker Agus Alue Alua to make the hour's walk to the welcoming ceremony.

Little wonder then that when his turn came to speak, Mr Alua hit out at the unsatisfactory implementation of the special autonomy law and Jakarta's failure to give the Papua and West Papua regional governments more authority.

Papua Traditional Council member Tom Beanal - who was initially prevented from attending the dialogue - was just as blunt, urging Mr Faleomavaega to pay attention to the aspirations of a

people who, he said, had never been allowed a voice in their own destiny.

More was to follow. When he flew on to Manokwari, the congressman found that West Papua Governor Abraham Atururi was away in China and he had to settle for a brief meeting with Deputy Governor Rahimin Katjong and what he called 'a three-minute speech'.

Already behind schedule and with night approaching, officials cancelled a meeting with local residents and rushed the congressman on a circuitous route back to the airport, trying to avoid roving bands of disappointed locals.

Once there, a thin line of policemen struggled desperately to hold back people besieging the terminal. Mr Faleomavaega was hustled on board his small chartered plane and just made it into the air before they broke through the fence and spilled out on the runway.

'It was a nightmare,' Mr Faleomavaega said. 'I think it was a total waste of time for me to just be there and then say, 'I've got to go'. If the purpose was to intimidate made me more irate because I don't think this is what the government or the President wanted. It is obvious the military is a problem.'

Still, the Manokwari incident demonstrates the government's predicament. Aware of past violence in often-volatile Jayapura, officials fear prominent foreign visitors like Mr Faleomavaega will become a catalyst for large-scale demonstrations that could easily get out of hand.

Jakarta knows what a public relations catastrophe that would be. However, refusing access to Western journalists leaves Jakarta open to suspicions that it has something to hide and that the 15,000 soldiers and police across the territory are still committing human rights abuses.

Mr Faleomavaega was not persuaded either way. 'They didn't like the idea of thousands of West Papuans meeting me,' he said.

'The military is still obsessed with the idea that my presence might trigger incidents or give encouragement to those classified as separatists.

'So, I told my Indonesian friends, 'Look - even showing the (independence) flag, the military immediately gets so concerned, as if the world was coming to an end'. My gosh, we've got Nazi flags flying all over America. I think Jakarta tends to overreact, making a mountain out of a molehill.'

He went on: 'It's my sense, talking to the Papuan leaders, that they want to implement the provisions of the special autonomy, they want their civil rights, they want to be treated fairly and not to be so intimidated by the military.'

He said he told Dr Yudhoyono that Indonesia 'has done such a lousy job in the treatment of the West Papuans, you might as well give them their independence', adding: 'All they want is to be respected, to be treated decently and not have the military constantly on their backs.'

Mr Faleomavaega's keen interest in Papua stems partly from the fact that he has a personal connection to the province. He has relatives buried in Manokwari, Samoan missionaries who went there in the late 1800s and never returned home. Cutting short the visit meant he could not visit their graves.

'The Congressional Black Caucus is very, very sensitive on issues affecting black people all over the world,' he noted.

'African issues are right there at the forefront. But as far as I'm concerned, Vanuatu, the Solomon islands, Papua and West Papua, that's all part of their history.'

Mr Faleomavaega's basic concern does not centre on how much money is flowing into Papua, which is now considerable in any event, but whether the autonomy law is actually seen to be working - even if the province does suffer from a chronic shortage of human resources.

'I think Jakarta can take more responsibility, not just throw out money and expect the Papuans to succeed when they don't have the resources and they don't have enough engineers, doctors, lawyers to form the nucleus of an autonomous government,' he said.

'Things are kind of floating.'

He also said that while he appreciated Dr Yudhoyono appropriating more than US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) for infrastructure development in Papua, 'I would rather see something that would make Papuans better educated. You cannot eat autonomy'.

One real test of the legislation has come with the recent joint agreement by governors Suebu and Atururi to ban the export of logs to domestic and overseas markets, which has quite literally put them at loggerheads with the Department of Forestry.

The governors point out that, under special autonomy, Jakarta retains control over only foreign affairs, defence, finance, the legal system and religion. The future of 42 million ha of standing rainforest, they say, is for Papua to determine.

In a speech - Forest Crimes To Forests For Life - Mr Suebu hammered that point home at a packed side-event at the UN climate change conference, saying that if Papua's poor are to benefit, the only way forward is through sustainable forest management and value-added wood industries.

The newly assertive governors are unimpressed with Indonesia's Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban's claims that their policies on forest conservation are not in accordance with the 1999 Forestry Law. For them, special autonomy trumps all and they are not about to let it be eroded.

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