Papua Church network seeks reconciliation

But clashes in the restive Indonesian province continue amid mutual suspicions
Papua Church network seeks reconciliation

The new leader of the Papua Peace Network, Father John Bunday, says that reconciliation is needed to unite divided Papuans. (Photo by Veni Mahuze/ucanews.com)

After the death of co-founder Father Neles Tebay in April, the Papuan Peace Network (PPN) sought a replacement who would also be passionately committed to facilitating dialogue in Indonesia's troubled West Papua Province.

A month later, human rights activists, religious leaders, academics, lawyers and others involved in the network held a meeting

And they decided that Father Jhon Bunay was the right man to take over as the organization's coordinator.

Prior to his election, Father Bunay was a professor of Christian spirituality at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy in Jayapura, the capital of West Papua Province that borders with the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

Father Bunay previously worked closely with the popular and much-missed Father Tebay.

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Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, remained part of the former Dutch colony after the rest of Indonesia gained independence in 1945 but was annexed by Jakarta in 1963.

A United Nations supervised, but nonetheless rigged, vote on self determination in 1969 settled little.

Amid a controversial internal migration scheme bringing in landless people from other parts of Indonesia, sporadic clashes and intermittent massacres have continued since.

In the early years, the independence movement was dominated by the Free Papua Movement, best known by its Indonesian acronym of OPM standing for Organisasi Papua Merdeka.

There have been various new and splinter secessionist groups in West Papua and at some stages military-dominated nationalist governments in Jakarta directly accused prominent members of the Catholic Church in both Indonesia and PNG of supporting poorly armed Papua independence guerrillas.

Internal divisions in the province have been exacerbated because there are 'Indonesianized' Papuans who support Jakarta's rule, akin to what happened in former East Timor, now the independent nation of Timor-Leste.

The PPN, which is also known by the Indonesia acronym JDP (Jaringan Damai Papua), was established in 2010 to restart a stalled reconciliation process both locally and nationally.

Father Bunay said that isolating Papuans from outsiders caused many people to see the situation only in terms of an independence struggle.

Reconciliation, while attempting to overcome prejudices, should still allow ordinary people to speak of their suffering from decades of injustice and discrimination, the priest said.

Why reconciliation and how?

There is still sporadic violence.

For example, a conflict involving the people in central Nduga district started in December when Papuan gunmen shot dead construction workers, with reports of the death toll ranging between 17 and 31.

There have been dozens more deaths on both sides since in this area and the number of internally displaced people has been estimated at more than 30,000.

Father Bunay, when stressing the need for enhanced reconciliation efforts, cited this strife as well as the killing in May by government security personnel of four people in south-western Asmat district during local election-related unrest.

With most Papuans being Christians in a majority-Muslim nation, both the Catholic and Protestant churches have a role to play in striving for peace, including reconciliation with non-Papuans.

Internal reconciliation could be followed by a next step of reconciling with the government, military and police, Father Bunay said.

In this context, the military and police would be asked to explain why Papuans had been targeted for "torture or killing".

"As a Catholic priest, my task is to bring peace and spread the Good News so that people live happily and love each other," he said.

Father Bunay said in the near future, his group was scheduled to meet President Joko Widodo to further discuss ways of advancing the Jakarta-Papua dialogue.

People’s support

Marta Bano, a mother from the northern coastal town of Abepura, said she agreed with the reconciliation process provided Papuan people benefit.

Meanwhile, some other Papuans are doubtful that divisions will be ended.

They cite problems in the implementation of 'special autonomy status' that saw the allocation of some US$5 billion in development funding by Jakarta between 2001 and 2017.

James Modouw, an expert at the Education Ministry and also a member of PPN, said that training Papuans as 'peace facilitators', including religious leaders, teachers and students, would be a key to success.

Elga Sarapung, director of the Indonesian interfaith group called Dian Interfidei, said churches in Papua have become a last hope for peace.

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