"Indonesia: Communal Tensions in Papua" International Crisis Group

media release:

“Jakarta/Brussels, 16 June 2008: Conflict between Muslim and Christian communities in Papua could erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed.

Indonesia: Communal Tensions in Papua,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, explores the factors that have led to increasing strains in Papua: continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both Christian and Muslim religious communities; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua.

“The potential for communal conflict is high in Papua because both sides consider themselves aggrieved”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser. “Indigenous Christians feel threatened by ongoing Muslim migration and a sense that the government is endorsing Islamic orthodoxy at the expense of non-Muslim minorities; Muslim migrants feel democracy may be leading to a tyranny of the majority, where in the long term they will face discrimination or even expulsion.”


Tensions are most acute along Papua’s west coast – violence was narrowly averted in Manokwari and Kaimana districts in 2007. The Manokwari drama started in 2005, when Christians mobilised to prevent an Islamic centre and mosque from being built on a site they considered holy, and intensifed in 2007 when a draft of a local goverment ordinance on “spiritual guidance” appeared that would have discriminated against non-Christians. A new draft, much milder but still likely to face oppostion from the Muslim community, appeared in May 2008.

Changes in demographics are part of the problem, but even if migration from outside Papua were to stop tomorrow, communal polarisation would probably continue because of other developments. Papua’s Christians are only too well aware of attacks on churches elsewhere in Indonesia and fear what they see as “Islamisation”. Muslims from outside Papua are easily mobilised to defend what they see as slights to a beleaguered community. Indigenous Papuan Muslims are divided, too, as more study Islam abroad and come home with ideas that are at odds with traditional practices. Christian pentecostals and charistmatics are gaining ground at the same time as hardline Islamic groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, exacerbating the problem.

Goverment officials at all levels – central, provincial and district – should avoid support for exclusivist religious groups, and ensure that funding for all religious activities is fully transparent.

“Government officials should work with donors to identify areas of high tension, where conflict might be defused by non-religious projects that would involve cooperation across communities,”, says John Virgoe, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director.”

For more see http://www.crisisgroup.org