Indonesian vice president Ma'ruf Amin (left) is greeted by the Papuan church leaders during a meeting on Oct. 11. (Photo supplied)
Indonesian Vice President Ma'ruf Amin met with Christian leaders in Papua seeking collaboration for peace and development in the restive Christian-majority easternmost region.
Amin held a special meeting with church leaders in the provincial capital Jayapura on Oct. 11 where he called them "game changers towards accelerating economic development and prosperity in Papua."
"I consider religious leaders to have a big influence in guiding and providing understanding to the Papuan people," he said in a meeting with the leaders of the Papuan Union of Churches, the West Papuan Churches Council, and the Papua Christian Center.
Bishop Yanuarius Teofilus Matopai You of Jayapura and Franciscan Father Konstantinos Bahang, deputy chairman of Papua Christian Center, an ecumenical forum, joined dozens of Protestant pastors at the meeting.
Amin said he hopes that religious leaders in this religiously diverse region with a Christian majority "will work together with the government in realizing development."
He said that the government would also help construct the Papua Center building, with the construction expected next year.
During the meeting, Father Bahang specifically asked Amin to support the church’s program to train teachers in institutes under the supervision of the church to be sent to remote areas.
He said they hoped that the government would not prepare other institutes or universities and would support the already existing Church-run schools.
Bahang said that churches have always prioritized the commitment of teachers to live in remote areas, something that is difficult for teachers from other universities to have.
"Because of that, we remain adamant about holding this at institutes that are under the supervision of churches, so that the commitment is there," he added.
Bishop You did not respond to UCA News' request for comment.
The meeting was held in the midst of escalating tension and conflict in Papua between the security forces and pro-independence groups. Rights groups have accused Indonesia of violating human rights in Papua.
Last month, the security forces came under fire for alleged violation of religious freedom after a raid on a church in Nduga Regency against its members who were accused of being involved with a separatist group.
Theo Hesegem, a human rights activist, said the meeting appeared to be an effort "to embrace the churches" who have been critical voices against the government.
"Of course, the meeting is good in the context of increasing development in Papua, but I hope that meetings like this do not become a tactic to weaken the prophetic voice of the church," he said.
"The request for the church to support development in Papua must not close the church's eyes to ongoing humanitarian problems," he added.
The meeting with religious leaders was held on the same day after Amin met with human rights activists and ethnic community leaders.
During the meeting, he said that the government was building ways to "find the root of the problem of every conflict and bridge what the Papuan people want.”
"We hope that misunderstandings will disappear," he said.
However, Amin emphasized that dialogue with other groups will continue as long as it is within the framework of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.
"When it comes to talking about independence, of course, there is no dialogue,” he said.