Papuan leaders say they want to open up a dialog with Indonesia’s central government after months of escalating violence in this restive province.
The Sultan of Yogyakarta said he would be happy to moderate the talks.
But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono offered a firm warning to Papuan organizations on Friday: If you want to talk about putting Papua’s independence to a vote, then we have nothing to talk about.
Yudhoyono was speaking to some 1,000 students from the Indonesian Military (TNI) Commando Institute and the National Police Field Officers Institute at the TNI Army Officers Institute in Bandung, West Java, on Friday, according to Antara.
“Papua and West Papua are legitimate Indonesian regions, they are part of [Indonesia]. We have an obligation to protect Papua and West Papua, including upholding the law and ensuring security in the regions,” the president said.
Yudhoyono was responding to a question from a student about the TNI and the National Police’s alleged history of human rights offenses in province.
The president said that any actions carried out by police and military personnel in Papua are in the interest of national security.
“If the TNI and the National Police are assigned to Papua, it is to ensure local security, to protect the people, to fight crime and to uphold the law,” Yudhoyono said. “It is legitimate because it is part of their duties to the state. A separatist movement in Papua is not [in the name of] freedom of speech. It is against the spirit of maintaining our sovereignty.”
Indonesia folded the resource-rich province into the nation’s boundaries through a disputed 1969 vote for self-determination. Armed separatists responded by waging a small-scale insurgency from deep within the province for decades while independence activists have called for a new referendum that would allow Papuans to put the issue to a vote.
The last time Indonesia allowed an outlying province to vote for independence was in 1999. East Timor — a region where the TNI committed a series of human rights offenses — responded by voting to secede from the nation.