A military helicopter landed on a ship at sea

A tale of two endings: a comparative perspective on civil war in Papua and East Timor

Wednesday 10th February 2016, 2.00 - 4.00pm; Room 9.05, Tower 2 (TW2)
Speaker: Dr Claire Smith; Chair: Dr Kirsten Schulze

This paper argues that if we contrast the ending to East Timor’s civil war with that of the comparable war in Papua, we can sharply see just how contingent East Timor’s negotiated ending was on a unique combination of specific events, individual actors and a particular set of national and international dynamics in mid to late 1999. Papua was annexed by the Indonesian Republic in 1969: by methods and in circumstances parallel to those in East Timor, only six years earlier. The only major difference between occupation of Papua and East Timor was that the international community recognised Indonesia’s claim to Papua, following the flawed Act of Free Choice. Other details, including means of occupation, methods of population control, and military and civil strategies by the Indonesian state, were all very similar. In fact, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, during the high point of Cold War military operations in Indonesia, the political strategy and overall tactics in both provinces were almost identical.

Thus, it was not that the means or modes or impacts of these two wars were different, but that the international and national perception of the justness of one of those wars shifted by the late 1990s. Despite very similar claims, without sufficient internal cohesion, national support or international pressure, Papua was unable to achieve a negotiated ending to civil war. There, in contrast, the war has slowly ended via a shift in strategy towards low-level violence and oppression, combined with semi-liberalisation. The paper sets out to show why this was the case. 



Claire Q. Smith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of York.




Kirsten Schulze is Deputy Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre and Associate Professor in International History at LSE.