Tue, 09 Nov 1999

Autonomy advocated to ease federalist calls

JAKARTA (JP): The establishment of a law which provides each province with wide-ranging autonomy would give the government an ideal start in easing demands for a federal state, former rebel group leader Ventje Sumual suggested on Monday.

"Full autonomy could simply mean giving 70 percent of regional income to the provincial budget," Sumual said.

He said for more than three decades the central government was enriched by natural resources exploited in provinces outside Java, especially in the eastern part of the country.

Sumual said he did not care about the ideal governmental system, either a federal state or united one. He said it was more important for him to have a government which puts the interests of regions first and provides them with full autonomy.

Sumual said the continuing exploitation was another form of human rights violations because it restricted local people from improving their standard of living on one hand and enriching people outside the area on the other.

"(Demands for a federal state) is just about justice for eastern Indonesians," he said, referring to the ceaseless rallies and movements across the country demanding a federal state.

Provinces rich in natural resources like Aceh, Irian Jaya and Riau, have long seen movements in support of independent states for themselves. South Sulawesi students have also waged the same demonstration for the past month.

Sumual was speaking at a media conference held to recount the presence of the rejuvenated Universal Struggle Front (Permesta) he led in 1957 to demand full autonomy for eastern Indonesia.

In the same year, a rebellion staged by a group of military officers called the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI) broke out. The rebel movement was then linked to Permesta.

A group of North Sulawesi activists, who claimed to represent the new Permesta, supported Sumual's view.

One of the activists, Willy Rawung, said eastern Indonesia comprises more than 50 percent of the republic's territory and is blessed with huge deposits of natural resources, including coal, gold, oil and cooper.

"But the central government seems to consider the region less important than, for example, the troubled province of Aceh," Willy complained.

He suggested that Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri come to eastern Indonesia soon and hold dialogs with people "before the situation worsens".

Willy said despite their rich natural resources, people in eastern Indonesia did not gain any benefits, while many foreign companies and the central government continued to exploit the region.

"The North Sulawesi government earns less than one percent of the revenue from the mining exploitation by Newmont company in Minahasa, while the rest goes to Jakarta and the company. This is unfair," Willy told reporters.

The continuing exploitation is a violation of the political commitment of the country's founding fathers, he said.

"The Republic of Indonesia was built on the concept of freedom and independence for every region," he added.

Sumual was one of the rebels and served a six-year jail term for the rebellion. "I was a member of Permesta who joined the PRRI rebellion, but the front was not against the government," Sumual said.

Meanwhile, outside the conference room, a member of Permesta protested about being left off the list of the organization's founders. The member, identified as Wailan, struck Permesta's secretary-general Boy Saul after an argument. (04)