02/25/2021, 17.08
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For Papuan bishops, beyond autonomy, jobs and education are needed (VIDEO)

by Mathias Hariyadi

In 2021, Papua’s special autonomy law expires. During a three-day meeting, local bishops analysed the problems and needs of a territory marked by violence and a pro-independence movement. The armed struggle is a heavy burden. The prelates call for peace and dialogue. Redemption can come through education and local economic development.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The five bishops of Indonesia’s easternmost territory of Papua took part in a three-day meeting in which they discussed a number of issues, including the area’s special autonomy law (UU Otsus), new job and development opportunities, and improving education, which now represents an emergency that must be tackled right away.

In their final press release, the bishops expressed hope for a “better future”, renewed harmony and an end to the violence that has gripped the territory, torn for decades by a struggle between local nationalists and Indonesian forces.

Papua is divided in two provinces – West Papua and Papua – and five dioceses –  Jayapura, Agats, Timika, Manokwari-Sorong and Merauke. In their statement, the bishops appeal to central and local leaders, urging them to focus on the common good of the people.

For the prelates, peace can only be achieved through dialogue and an end to the armed struggle by separatist groups.

Indonesia’s military and police forces are pitted against local pro-independence armed groups who are pushing for “a referendum on self-determination”.

The bishops urge the parties to adopt “an approach based on love and non-violence” and invite them to realise the “importance of peaceful dialogue”.

Instead of discussing the further implementation of the special autonomy that has been in place for 20 years and which expires in 2021, they want to see the parties “get back to work together.”

The prospects for peace are still conditioned by the armed struggle, which has led over the years to extrajudicial killings and violence on both sides. The civilians have suffered the most, forced to flee and seek refuge wherever they can, even inside churches.

The latest incidents took place in Intan Jaya and Nduga regencies (districts). “At least a thousand people have left their homes seeking refuge at a Church compound. They fear ending up in the crossfire between the military and separatist rebels,” a resident told AsiaNews.

To ease the suffering, the bishops warn, it is necessary to offer opportunities for development and redemption to the population, through the creation of local businesses and activities.

“So far, local businesses are linked to migrants established in Papua,” the bishops explain. “Regency officials should instead create opportunities for indigenous people, giving them the necessary skills and means.”

A final emergency is education, which has been negatively affected in the past year by the coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented more and more students from attending classes.

“In a normal situation, school absenteeism is already high. The pandemic has made the situation worse [so much so that] illiteracy is becoming a serious problem. When the bases of primary education are inadequate, one cannot hope to achieve anything better from high school or universities.”

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