Peacekeeping: The Endless Rutted Road


July 1, 2010: The UN has a growing problem with peacekeeping missions that create more problems than they solve. For example, UN peacekeepers have been in East Timor since 1999, and the current plan is to keep them there at least until 2013. The initial peacekeeping force, of 11,000 troops (half of them Australian), chased the pro-Indonesian militias into West Timor, along with several hundred thousand Indonesians (mostly Malays who had migrated to mainly Melanesian East Timor). East Timor then became an independent nation in 2002. Since then, East Timor has become a money pit for foreign aid, without good prospects of  ever becoming self-sustaining. The UN is having a hard time getting donor nations to contribute, since there are other areas where the money can be sent, that will have a more positive outcome. Meanwhile, a similar situation is developing to the east, on the large island of New Guinea.

The western portion of New Guinea consists of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. This area is turning into another battleground between Moslems and Christians. This is part of a government effort to destroy the power and influence of the native Melanesian population. The Malays who are the dominant group in Indonesia are lighter skinned than the Melanesians (who look like black Africans, but are not), are largely Moslem, better educated and wealthier. 

Western New Guinea used to be a Dutch colony, and many of the Melanesian tribal people there were converted to Christianity. Islam was relatively unknown. No longer. Because of heavy migration from other parts of Indonesia over the last two decades, about a quarter of the 2.4 million strong population is now Moslem and Malay. Islamic radicals have shown up as well. When the Dutch left in 1961, they gave the locals the opportunity to establish an independent nations. Indonesia disagreed, sent in its troops, and the world did nothing.

Between angry Christians (who oppose the migrants, and their religion) and Islamic radicals (who hate non-Moslems), there have been a growing number of clashes. Most of the police are Malay, and they tend to side with the Moslems. This is also the case with the Malay merchants, who dominate wholesale and retail trade in Papua. It's getting uglier by the month, and many fear it will turn into another East Timor. This used to be part of Indonesia, but local resistance led to a bloody war (killing over 100,000) and eventual independence.

Most Indonesians consider the establishment of East Timor in 2002 as nothing less than foreign interference and stealing of part of Indonesia. Australian soldiers led the peacekeeping force during this operation, and Indonesians hold Australia largely responsible for this "land grab". The rest of the world accuses Indonesia of atrocities in their brutal treatment of the population in East Timor, beginning when Indonesia took over the province after the Portuguese colonial government left in the 1970s (and East Timor's declaration of independence was ignored.) But East Timor was always a very poor, and small (1.1 million people) part of Indonesia, and an even more poverty stricken independent nation. East Timor is propped up by foreign aid and growing business with neighboring Indonesia. Foreigners and Indonesians are finding that bribe money goes a long way in East Timor.

Indonesia points to the experience with East Timor as an example of what could happen if the world assisted Papua and West Papua to become independent. In addition, Indonesia points out that the other half of New Guinea (formerly controlled by Australia), became independent (as Papua New Guinea) in 1975, and has been corrupt, bankrupt and mismanaged ever since. That's because all of New Guinea is fragmented into thousands of tribes, most speaking over 800 different languages and most of the people illiterate. Australia does what it can to help keep the Papua New Guinea government intact and somewhat solvent.




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