A group of prominent figures established a forum on Tuesday to increase public participation in the efforts to resolve the problems of Papua, which has been affected by human rights abuses and secessionist sentiment for decades.
The establishment of the Papua Forum has been inspired by a lack of transparency in the way in which the government dealt with the Aceh conflict recently, the forum's deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman said.
"People feel they have been excluded by the government from the efforts to settle the Aceh problem. Now that the President has announced the government's intention of addressing the Papua issue, we hope that this forum will be capable of ensuring greater public participation," Marzuki, of the Golkar Party, said.
In his address to the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) a few weeks ago, President Susilo said that the government would now turn its attention to Papua after the peace deal with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) to end three decades of bloodshed in the country's westernmost province.
Albert Hasibuan, who chairs the new forum, said that it had been established to show the public that the Papua issue was not the exclusive domain of Papuans and the government, but also concerned other Indonesians.
Other founders of the forum include H.S. Dillon, Sabam Siagian, Fikri Jufri, Tommy Legowo, Zoemrotin K. Susilo, Asmara Nababan, Fajrul Falaakh, Faisal Basri, Tuty Herati Nurhadi, Bara Hasibuan, Rizal Sukma, Father J. Budi Hernawan OFM, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, Shanti Poesposoetjipto, Sjafii Maarif and Harry Tjan Silalahi.
Wiryono said Indonesians quickly unite when it comes to problems with other countries but do the opposite in response to domestic problems.
"There has also long been a mind-set that separatism must be crushed (by the use of force). It's reform time now, meaning that problems must be resolved through peaceful means," said the former diplomat, who was the government's chief negotiator during talks with GAM in 2002.
Albert said the forum planned to initiate debate on the problems of Papua and to approach them from various perspectives. The results would then be presented to the government.
Jakarta, Sabam added, must not attempt to oversimplify the problems in Papua, which he said were complicated and had persisted since the late 1940s.
The government has admitted that separatist sentiment in Papua is the result of the unfair treatment meted out by Jakarta to indigenous Papuans in the economic, political, social and security fields.
Human rights violations have been widespread in Papua, but the perpetrators have rarely been brought to book. Meanwhile, most Papuans continue to live in abject poverty despite Papua's mineral wealth.
Like Aceh, Papua has been granted special autonomy, but unlike Aceh its implementation has consistently been thwarted by Jakarta. To date, the government has yet to set up the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), even though its establishment is mandated by law.
Through changes in the legislation, the government has ensured that if and when it is set up, the MRP, which is supposed to have a say in the political, social and economic affairs of the province, will serve as little more than a cultural talking shop.
Separately in Jayapura, tribal leader Seblum Werbabkay called on the Papua administration, the Papua General Elections Commission (KPUD) and the Papua provincial council to hold a gubernatorial election after the establishment of the MRP.
He said it was the MRP that had the power to determine those eligible to contest the election under the Papuan Special Autonomy Law (No. 21/2001).
"Otherwise, it may spark conflict," Seblum said.
The Papua issue recently came to the fore again following the questioning in the U.S. of Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua in the 2006-2007 foreign relations authorization bill, which has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is now at the committee stage in the Senate.