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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for increased autonomy for Papua province to address the host of development and security problems there, an official said on Monday.
Lukas Enembe, the recently inaugurated governor of the country’s easternmost province, said following a meeting with Yudhoyono at the State Palace in Jakarta that the president had expressed his desire to have a solution for the problems in sight before leaving office in 2014.
He added that the president, through the Home Affairs Ministry, had proposed the concept of “Special Autonomy Plus” for the Papua administration, which is already one of just four provinces in the country that enjoys special autonomy.
“Our hope is that the draft on the Special Autonomy Plus policy is completed by August, because the idea is to address the problems endemic to Papua,” Lukas said.
“All these problems must be dealt with before Yudhoyono’s term in office ends, so there’s another year and a half left to go.”
Under the terms of the expanded autonomy, the provincial administration will have more freedom to engage in dialogue with leaders of the Free Papua Organization (OPM), an outlawed separatist group that had been waging a low-level armed insurgency against security forces for nearly half a century.
Lukas said this move toward engagement was part of Yudhoyono’s call for “development with compassion” rather than suppression of separatist sentiment.
He added that his own administration was calling for the OPM to contribute to policies for the development of the province and improved welfare for its people.
“There’s no denying that a lot of our brethren are on the other [separatist] side, but they’re people too, and as long as we can communicate with one another, we should keep doing so,” the governor said.
“With the right approach, I believe they will be willing to listen.”
He also said that separatist sentiment was waning across much of the province, and that elements of the OPM still holding out for secession from Indonesia would gradually realize that both they and the provincial administration shared the same goal of boosting development for the region’s people.
Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia on May 1, 1963, was granted special autonomy by Jakarta in 2001 in an attempt to address social grievances and a poverty rate that remains among the highest in the country despite the region’s immense wealth of natural resources.
The central government has poured trillions of rupiah into the region over the past decade as part of the autonomy push. However, with 31 percent of the population still living below the poverty line, critics say the huge funds have not been allocated effectively and that the special autonomy status has failed to achieve its objective.
Lukas, who won a long-delayed election in February with 52 percent of votes, said he was confident that under his leadership, and with the extended autonomy policy in the works, there would be progress made toward resolving the problems in the province.
Speaking shortly after his election victory, Lukas said Papua’s problems were so complex that it would take more than just special autonomy to frame a solution.
He said the central government’s development policy was often not in line with regional implementation and the will of the Papuan people, and called on the government to monitor development in the province more closely.
“So many policies have been implemented, yet they are still not what the Papuans want or hope for,” he said.