Peace Is Possible in Papua If …

Date: 02-09-2007

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HONOLULU (Feb. 9) – Peace is possible in Indonesia’s troubled eastern province of Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya. But, according to a recently published East-West Center Washington Policy Studies, getting there will entail journeying down a different road than that recently traveled in the successful search for peace in Aceh, another unsettled Indonesian province.

Dr. Timo Kivimäki, a senior researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen and author of the recent EWC Washington publication Initiating a Peace Process in Papua: Actors, Issues, Process, and the Role of the International Community, says while peace is possible in Papua the problem in the eastern Indonesian province is more complex than that Jakarta faced in Aceh. He says this is, in part, “because Papua has a larger scale of migrants and a less-organized form of resistance.”

But the roots of the problems in Papua go back over forty years. Kivimäki says, “The main issue of contention between Papuans and the Indonesian central administration is related to the Indonesian rule of Papua.” Papua was declared part of Indonesia in 1945 and has been under Jakarta’s control since 1963. As Jakarta consolidated its control over the province in the 1960’s attempts to “Indonesianize” Papua were undertaken, apparently with more than a small measure of success. It’s estimated that in 1960 the Indonesian population of the province numbered only 18,600, about 2.5 percent of the total population. By the year 2000, the number of Indonesians in Papua were said to have jumped to almost 750-thousand, some 35 percent of the total population.

To make matters more complicated, Jakarta embarked on a divide and conquer plan in the former Irian Jaya province. The province has been separated into three provinces, with two of the new entities (Papua and West Irian Jaya) existing not just as a legal reality but also political ones as well, having elected their own governors less than a year ago. This even though the Papuan Special Autonomy Law still recognizes the entirety of the former Irian Jaya province as one entity.

Kivimäki says that the ongoing conflict between the diverse Papuan resistance and Jakarta’s troops has killed, according to Amnesty International and several other organizations, about 100,000 Papuans (official Indonesian estimates of casualties are far lower) has not helped the climate for peace.

According to Kivimäki, who played a role in the successful Aceh peace talks, despite the continued resistance in Papua lessons can be learned, both good and bad, from the Aceh talks and the experience of the Papuan special autonomy consultations of 2001 and 2002. But he points out, “the vital lessons Papua needs to learn are related to the identification of the actors in the dialogue, the issues to be covered, and the possible role of the international community.”

For a peace process to have a chance in Papua, Kivimäki says it would “probably require the initiative of some courageous individuals working in their private capacity to assist the relevant conflicting parties and trusted external communities.” He acknowledges that even this would “probably be impossible to represent all the resistance groups in the negotiations,” and that the Papuans would have to organize a way to include those who “do not feel ownership toward the dialogue process.” Not an easy task. But, Kivimäki adds the resistance movement in Papua “needs to keep in mind that once a peace agreement is enabled, a better mobilization of Papuan representation can be formed mistakes made by imperfectly representative parties to peace talks can always be rectified.”

To overcome the lack of trust between Papua and Jakarta, Kivimäki says “the attention of the international community” is required. Among the ways the international community could help the process, he adds, is offering the venue “of negotiations themselves and … the monitoring of the implementation of any peace agreement that emerges.” And Kivimäki points out that “due to the presence of more complicated problems than existed in Aceh related to the Indonesian and international corporations operating in Papua, some level of involvement or representation of these stakeholders should also be considered.”

One of the main issues to be considered in any Papuan-Jakarta dialogue, according to Kivimäki is the question of Papua’s political status. But that is not the only one. He says cultural grievances, including the control of immigration; economic inequities; security concerns; and political empowerment of Papuans need to be dealt with in any dialogue “between supporters and opponents of Indonesian rule.”

Despite the difficulties Kivimäki believes “if the conflicting parties are willing to negotiate in good faith and if they accept each other as worthy of dialogue, the Papuan conflict can be resolved.” This means that the government has to accept to negotiate with rebels it has marginalized as illegal, including a variety of militant and ideological groups under the umbrella of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM).But he acknowledges “A permanent resolution requires that both sides are able to secure their fundamental interests, so the parties involved need to develop lenses that enable both sides to see the settlement as a victory rather than a defeat.”


Timo Kivimäki is senior researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen. He was an adviser to former Finish President Martti Ahtisaari during the Aceh peace talks and is currently engaged in a study of the feasibility of a similar peace dialogue in Papua. Dr. Kivimäki can be contacted at

The East-West Center Washington Policy Studies 25 “Initiating a Peace Process in Papua: Actors, Issues, Process, and the Role of the International Community” is available in PDF and print editions. The PDF copies can be accessed through the East-West Center Washington at Hardcopies are available through In Asia, hardcopies are available through the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore at 30 Heng Mui Keng Terrace, Pasir Panjang, Singapore 119614 (website:

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