By Devin Watkins
Representatives of the Catholic Church in Indonesia, in particular from the West Papua province, have held talks with the country’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs.
The meeting was held on Sunday at Mr. Mahfud MD’s residence, and were aimed at discussing the various problems afflicting the restive province.
Present were Bishop Aloysius Murwito of Agats and Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina, who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Merauke, along with Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, President of Indonesia’s Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The encounter came after reports emerged that the Indonesian National Army had shot dead a Catholic catechist on 26 October. He was suspected of belonging to a separatist movement.
The murder took place in Jalae Village, Sugapa District, in West Papua’s Intan Jaya Regency.
Bishop Mandagi told UCA News that the hour-long meeting was meant to address “various problems in Papua, especially violence.”
Indonesia’s Bishops, he added, are concerned about the situation, though he said no specific cases were discussed.
Rather, talks focused on the suffering wrought by violence, both on local civilians as well as on security forces.
Dialogue, not violence
Bishop Mandagi said he told Mr. Mahfud that expanded dialogue with the people of Papua could help ease tensions. The local Catholic Church, he added, was always open to discussions.
“Papuans are good people,” he said. “Everyone including military, police, and church workers who come to Papua must not look down on them. We all need to settle Papua’s problems with dialogue, by respecting Papuans and without violence.”
The Bishop said military interventions only serve to exacerbate tensions.
A separatist movement has simmered in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces since the late 1960s, when the region became part of Indonesia.
Papuans complain of human rights abuses and discrimination from government authorities.
Following the meeting with Church leaders, Mr. Mahfud said the government would engage in further dialogue with Bishops in West Papua and Papua, as well as with other religious leaders.
Bishop Mandagi expressed his hopes for the cessation of violence.
“We want Papua to become a land of love, not a war zone,” he said.