Dita Sari is a former Indonesian political prisoner and is chairperson of the militant Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggle (FNPBI) union federation. She is also a leading member of the left-wing Peoples Democratic Party (PRD). Green Left Weekly's Sam Wainwright asked Sari about the PRD's attitude to the movements for national self-determination in West Papua and Aceh. Sari was in Australia in early April for the second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference, held in Sydney.
If anything illustrates the precarious and limited versions of democracy and human rights in Indonesia today, it is the Indonesian government's continued repression of the peoples of Aceh and West Papua. President Megawati Sukarnoputri is opposed to independence in both cases, much as she opposed East Timor's independence to the very end.
"The broader pro-democracy movement in Indonesia, including non-government organisations and the student movement, generally do not understand the independence struggle in Aceh. They know people in Aceh are struggling against military repression and the Indonesian armed forces' domination of Aceh's social and political life. But they don't see independence as the solution to the situation.
"The PRD, and the mass organisations close to it, believes that the solution for Aceh has to be a referendum that includes independence as an option. A referendum needs to be called, in conditions free from military repression, so that the people can vote in peace", Sari explained.
Sari told GLW that members of the PRD throughout the country are attempting to convince Indonesians to support the holding of such a referendum.
"As more Indonesians see the escalation of military activity in Aceh and the increasingly close ties between the government and the military, we explain that it's almost impossible for the Acehnese to get any improvements under the status quo. There is no indication that the government will prosecute the generals responsible for human rights abuses in Aceh.
"We explain to people that solving the political and economic problems in Aceh cannot take place in the framework of Indonesian capitalism. They have to be able to take themselves out of Indonesia because they can't wait until, or rely on, democracy coming to Indonesia and changing things in Aceh."
The PRD also favours a free and fair referendum for West Papua. However, there are differences between the two struggles, Sari noted. "Pro-independence ideas in Aceh are more widespread and the movement involves more people. The movement in Aceh has clear leadership, organisation and institutions. It actively involves many sectors of the population, such as students and workers. It's a more developed movement than in West Papua."
In West Papua, Sari pointed out that repression and killings by the TNI have meant that pro-independence ideas have not had the space to be properly discussed. The PRD's main demand for West Papua is that all the options — independence, autonomy or integration — must be allowed to be freely discussed, without repression by the military, pro-Indonesian militias or the government bureaucracy.
"Unless such a process can be guaranteed, then a referendum will be compromised. For people to choose independence, there must be space for pro-independence people to campaign before the referendum takes place."
From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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