Sharon Muller – Demonstrations against the creation of three new autonomous regions (DOB) have flared up in different parts of Papua: Sorong, Kaimana, Yahukimo, Wamena, Nabire, Jayapura and Merauke. The TNI (Indonesian military) and the Polri (Indonesian police) have responded by brutally repressing the actions with two protesters shot dead in Yahukimo, violently blocking rallies in Sorong and Nabire as well as verbally abusing and beating protesters and seizing rally materials. Police behaved in a similar way in Jayapura.
In Indonesia meanwhile, anti-DOB demonstrations have flared up in Ambon, Ternate, Manado, Bali, Kupang, Malang, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, with the majority of demonstrations being initiated by Papuan youth.
During a rally in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta, Papuan students and other solidarity activist took turns in demanding that the DOBs be cancelled, calling for the Special Autonomy (Otsus) Law on Papua to be revoked and slamming the Gajah Mada University (UGM) for being the intellectual actor behind the policies through its Papua Task Force Team which has released several studies supporting Jakarta's creation of DOBs in Papua.
The West Papuan people reject the DOBs because, first, the DOBs are being created arbitrarily by Jakarta, not in the interests of the West Papuan people. The carve up of West Papua represents an agenda the central government has had for some time in order to silence demands for independence.
A Home Affairs Ministry Directorate General (Ditjen) secret document from the National Unity and Social Protection Agency (Kesbang Linmas) dated June 2, 2000 and designated Official Memorandum Number 578/ND/KESBANG/D IV/VI/2000, which was issued based on Papua caretaker governor radiogram report Number 190/1671/SET/dated June 3, 2000, reads:
"Regionally planed operational conditioning and development of communication networks [will be carried out] in response to the political goal of Irian Jaya (now Papua) becoming independent and separating itself from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. The operation will be implemented in all regencies and municipalities in Irian Jaya reaching into remote areas by accelerating the regional expansion of Irian Jaya and the formation of new regencies and municipalities as needed".
Jakarta's enforced agenda was strongly opposed by the West Papuan people but Jakarta responded by assassinating prominent independence leader Theys H. Eluay. In November, ten days after Eluay's murder, Jakarta unilaterally enacted Law Number 21/2001 on Special Autonomy (Otsus) for Papua, This was followed by the imposition of Presidential Instruction Number 1/2003 on the Formation of West Papua province. Despite the Constitutional Court ruling on November 11, 2004 that the decision to create West Papua province was not legally binding, because of Jakarta's ambitions the creation of the new province was forced through and stands to this day.
Then in the lead up to the Special Autonomy Law expiring there was an outbreak of demonstrations throughout Papua condemning the racist actions of reactionary groups and the police against Papuan students in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya in 2019. A people's movement developed to demand political independence by occupying government buildings and flying the Morning Star independence flag. Jakarta responded to this by deploying thousands of TNI and Polri troops to Papua and suddenly recruiting 61 people dubbed "Papuan figures" as puppets to support Jakarta's interests.
On October 30, 2019, Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian claimed that the creation of DOBs in Papua was supported by the results of an intelligence study. As a result of this study, some 183 proposals for regional expansion in other parts of Indonesia were ignored and Papua was prioritised. This is despite a moratorium on regional expansion as a consequence of inadequate state finances.
Second, this is Jakarta's politic of "divide and conquer". Papua University anthropologist I Ngurah Suryawan in his book Broken Souls (Jiwa Yang Patah) noted that the horizontal conflicts in Papua were a creation of the Indonesian government through the local political elite, who acted as an extension of Jakarta's hands in implementing the Indonesian government's policies in the land of Papua.
The brutality of the Indonesian capitalist regime which has killed thousands and destroyed Papua's natural environment for more than 60 years has resulted in Indonesia loosing it's authority in the eyes of the Papuan people. So in the context of forcing Papua to remain part of the Republic of Indonesia – aside from sending insane numbers of military troops – the regime has also tried to split and divide the unity of the Papuan people. And based on intelligence analysis, the tool which is most effective is regional expansion.
Regional expansion, according to a book by West Papua Baptist Churches Reverend Socrates Sofyan Yoman titled The Disappearance of the Melanesians, has divided the Papuan people based on region, tribe and clan. The narrative of the highlands verses the lowlands, the civil wars in Yalimo, Timika, Nduga, Yahukimo, Maybrat, South Sorong and all of the new regencies formed by Indonesia which are taking place at the moment are "horizontal conflicts" manufactured by Jakarta.
The regional expansion being forced through by Jakarta is not to improve development but to split and divide the unity of the Papuan people. This is because Jakarta is aware that if the unity of the Papuan people is maintained it threatens them. So, as said by Papuan academic Sendius Wonda, one of the ways to do undermine this is by forcing through regional expansion so that the Papuan people's unity is destroyed and Indonesia can more easily control Papua and steal its natural resources.
Third, regional expansion in Papua does not even meet the government's own criteria and will instead threaten humanity and the natural environment. The basic conditions for the creation of DOBs is the size of the population, financial capacity and the size of the region. Based on National Statistics Agency (BPS) data for 2020, the total population of the two provinces in Papua is less than 6 million, with 4.3 million people in Papua and 1.13 million in West Papua province. Even if Jakarta's argument for regional expansion is to bring prosperity to the Papuan people, does the problem of poverty only exist in Papua?
BPS data for 2021 shows that there is also extreme poverty in Java. So if it is true that regional expansion is the "medicine" to end poverty, it is East Java with a population of almost 50 million which should be broken up, not Papua!
The forced creation of DOBs in Papua will open the door for migrants from outside to occupy Papua. Data shows that indigenous Papuans in Papua province have declined from 3 million and in West Papua province only 48.7 percent of the population are indigenous Papuans and the remainder migrants. The DOBs will widen this gap.
Then there is financial capacity. An October 2020 study by the Cenderawasih University (Uncen) on the planned DOBs concluded that none of the regions in Papua fulfilled the requirements for regional expansion because none of them had a locally generated revenue (PAD) of over 50 percent and still relied on transfers from the central government. The Uncen study even concluded that existing regencies such as Nduga, Mulia, Yahukimo ad the Bintang Highlands should be reintegrated back into their original regencies. In West Papua province, Maybrat, the Arfak Highlands, Tambrauw and others should also be reintegrated because their PADs are only 2 percent.
So regional expansion in Papua only adds to Indonesia's financial burden and in the end the country's debt will increase further. The regime is keen on creating DOBs in Papua as part of the bourgeoisies' strategy to legalise massive investments in Papua to exploit Papua's natural wealth on the pretext of "supporting development".
In addition to this, the forced regional expansion in Papua will be followed by expansion of the police units and the TNI's extra-territorial commands starting from regional military commands (Pangdam) and regional police (Polda) down to sub-district military commands (Koramil) and sectoral police units (Polsek).
A study by I Made Supriatna found that in Papua 40 people are already being monitored by one military officer. Regional expansion equals strengthening the grip of militarism over freedom to travel, express an opinion or for Papuan people to gather.
On the pretext that Papua is three times the size of Java island, Jakarta says that Papua can be broken up into several DOBs. But who is regional expansion for if the population is so small?
Fourth, regional expansion is not a solution to the armed conflict in Papua. The Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) concluded that there are four basic problems in Papua: the marginalisation of indigenous Papuans, the failure of development, state violence and human rights violations, along with Papua's political status, which for Papuans has still not been finalised.
The marginalisation of indigenous Papuans is clearly a result of the massive influx of migrants from outside of Papua. Regional expansion will worsen this.
On the problem of violence and human rights violations, between December 19, 1961 and 2000 there have been 15 consecutive military operations launched in Papua. According to author and journalist Gemima Harvey, some 500,000 Papuans have been killed during these operations.
Military operations are still continuing in Nduga, Intan Jaya, Lani Jaya, Oksibil, Yahukimo and Maybrat, and in almost all parts of Papua violence occurs every day. The latest report by Amnesty International revealed that between 2018 and 2021 some 95 civilians were victim of violence committed by the TNI or police. This does not yet include those which have fallen victims since 2000. The principle perpetrators of this violence are the TNI and police. So the regime should be withdrawing these personnel, not creating DOBs which will only increase the number of troops.
On the issue of Papua's political status, the struggle over Papua between Indonesia and the Netherlands in the 1950-60s is the root of the Papua conflict which continues to be challenged and fought for by the West Papuan people.
Through Indonesian diplomacy mediated by the imperialist United States – which had ambitions to control the huge gold deposits in West Papua – on August 15, 1962 the New York Agreement was signed. This treaty, which did not involve a single West Papua representative, led to the 1969 UN sponsored referendum known as the "Act of Free Choice" in which 1,025 handpicked tribal leaders were coerced into voting for integration with Indonesia.
This is the basis for the West Papuan people's call for a referendum to determine their future.
[Translated by James Balowski. This is an abridged version of a longer article by Arah Juang titled "Mengapa Rakyat Papua Menolak DOB?". Sharon Muller is a leading member of the Socialist Union (Perserikatan Sosialis) and a member of the Socialist Study Circle (LSS).]