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"Nationalism turns eyes from Jakarta's failures Indonesia's fragile state"
Comment by Sidney Jones in the International Herald Tribune

As the first direct presidential election in Indonesia approaches in 2004, politicians are appealing to nationalism the one sentiment guaranteed to distract attention from economic woes, corruption and government mismanagement. No more being bossed around by the International Monetary Fund, the nationalists say, no more sales of Indonesian assets to foreigners and no more coddling of separatists. The nationalist rhetoric has particularly ominous implications for Aceh and Papua, restive provinces on the western and eastern extremities of Indonesia. In both places, experiments in peaceful conflict resolution are under way. In Aceh, a cessation of hostilities agreement between the Indonesian government and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement was brokered by the Geneva-based nongovernmental organization, the Henri Dunant Center. Signed on Dec. 9, it has dramatically reduced violence in a province wracked by a 27-year-old conflict in which 600 people were killed last year alone.

The political endgame in Aceh remains unresolved, however, the Indonesian side sees autonomy as the final product while the rebels see it as merely a starting point for discussions. Here in Papua Province, the level of violence has never been as high or the guerrilla movement as well organized as in Aceh. A peaceful political campaign in support of independence is, if anything, stronger. A law granting Papuans special autonomy, passed in November 2001, offered an opportunity for Papuans to use locally generated revenues to strengthen indigenous capacity and build more representative institutions. The centerpiece of the effort was to be the Papuan People's Council, composed of tribal elders, religious leaders and women. But establishment of the council has been delayed repeatedly by Jakarta. Nationalism manipulated for political ends could wreck the experiments in Papua and Aceh. In January, President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia issued a decree dividing Papua into three provinces, in what appears to have been an attempt to throw the independence movement into disarray and create conflict over who would get the spoils from the new provincial posts. The decree put the Papua autonomy law into legal limbo, but the protests against it have been so great that the government now appears to be looking for a face-saving way to put decree on hold. Senior military and civilian officials in Jakarta are convinced that the Papuan autonomy law gave away too much, and they are looking for ways to weaken it. If territorial division does not work they may start looking for other options. Meanwhile, they are raising the specter of an international conspiracy to wrest Papua from Indonesia. Indonesia's defense minister warned in February that the separatist movements in both Aceh and Papua were drawing inspiration from East Timor on how to break away from Indonesia and that both restless provinces were relying on foreigners. He noted that the conflict in Aceh had already been internationalized through the involvement of Henri Dunant Center. The Papuan movement, he said, was using international contacts to spread the idea that the 1969 Act of Free Choice which led to Papua's incorporation into Indonesia was invalid. In Aceh the military has made no secret of its unhappiness with the government's decision to pursue negotiations with the rebels, who have used the reduction in violence to more openly rally villagers to their pro-independence platform. A recent incident in central Aceh, in which angry residents attacked the local office of a monitoring unit set up under the cease-fire agreement, allegedly because it had failed to stop rebel extortion, needs thorough investigation. Central Aceh is the only part of Aceh where an army-backed militia has long been active. Local activists say that the attack was a military attempt to undermine the agreement. For the last three decades, the Indonesian government has had a standard arsenal of responses to separatism: military operations, attempts to coopt opponents, divide and rule tactics, and deluging the affected area with development funds. The first three tactics have been demonstrable failures. There is no need for the last more funds as both Aceh and Papua now have the authority to retain large percentages of locally generated revenues. Nationalist rhetoric is blinding Indonesia's political elite to the root causes of rebellion. Neither foreign intervention nor rebel perfidy are driving the demand for independence in Aceh and Papua. The problem, in large part, is appallingly bad Indonesian governance. Politicians in Jakarta should be putting less thought into how to crush separatists and more into how to train local cadres, punish corruption, extend social services, end discrimination, ensure justice and respect local culture. Meanwhile, they should let the experiments in conflict resolution proceed.

Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune All Rights Reserved

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