Editions : April-June 2012

JOURNAL | INDONESIA 360 By: Eddie Walsh

Separatism in Papua is a complex issue with many underlying, inter­related causes. The main parties to this conflict remain the Indone­sian central government, indigenous Papuans and non-indigenous migrant settlers. Geolocation, history, and identity (ethnicity/religion) all play an important role in the parties’ construction of the conflict. These are reinforced by another set of factors: political, economic, social and humani­tarian grievances. The question is: which set of factors is more amenable to resolution and thereby affords a better opportunity to stabilize the conflict? In looking at the Papuan conflict, one realizes that the first set of conflict issues - geolocation, history, and identity – can be mitigated with cross-cut­ting initiatives across the second set of conflict issues.

In effect, their narra­tives are made potent when reinforced by the second set of conflict issues. For this reason, domestic and international actors seeking to promote peace in Papua should encourage the parties in conflict to seek incremental resolution of their political, economic, social and humanitarian grievances instead of trying to tackle conflict issues related to geolocation, history or identity. This, of course, requires a comprehensive approach because Papua’s political, economic, social and humanitar­ian problems cannot be redressed in silos.

Geopolitical strategists have long recog­nized that the physical distance between conflict actors serves as an important factor influencing the risk of conflict. As Graham K Brown noted in his 2005 analysis of Acehnese separatism, the history of conflict suggests that the periphery of states are more suscep­tible to the rise of separatism than their core. While he made this reference in a case study on Aceh, it appears to apply generally across Indonesia, where four of the country’s major separatist conflicts of the 20th century (Aceh, Papua, East Timor and South Maluku) arose on either side of the expansive archipelago.

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