Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Bowing to protests, Hari delays swearing in regent

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Amid public protests, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno on Monday postponed installing Hengky Yusuf Wau as acting head for the new South Nias regency in North Sumatra.

Hari swore in Manatap Simanungkalit and Tigor S. Solin as acting regents for the two other new regencies of Humbang Hasundutan and Pakpak Bharat respectively, but suspended the inauguration of Hengky.

The central government had had to delay Hengky's swearing in to prevent communal conflict among people in South Nias, the minister said.

"The government does not want local people involved in a conflict because of the appointment of an official," Hari told a ceremony to inaugurate the three new regencies in Medan, North Sumatra.

Speaking to the press after the ceremony, he could not say when the matter would be resolved, saying it depended on local residents.

The central government had authorized North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin to resolve the issue in the near future, he added.

Last Friday, delegations from South Nias came to Medan to meet Rizal to step up pressure against the central government's plan to swear in Hengky.

The representatives said they and other local people were ready to face jail to thwart the installment of Hengky, whom they called a "government puppet".

They also threatened to disrupt the regency administration should the government go ahead with making Hengky an acting regent.

Rizal claimed he knew nothing about the appointment of Hengky as he was not officially notified about this.

Outside the governor's office where the tightly guarded ceremony took place, thousands of people from South Nias and Humbang Hasundutan staged demonstrations.

A minor clash erupted between rival protesters from Humbang, who opposed and backed the appointment of Manatap as their acting regent. At least one person was taken to hospital for arm injuries.

Before being split, South Nias used to be part of Nias regency and Humbang Hasundutan was created from the separation of North Tapanuli regency, while Pakpak Bharat used to part of Dairi regency.

Speaking to the press after the ceremony guarded by more than 350 police personnel, Hari said he had so far inaugurated the creation of 23 new regencies and cities as the result of expansion programs in nine provinces across Indonesia.

He said that apart from South Nias, similar disputes had also hit two new regencies in North Sulawesi, which forced him to delay the swearing in of their regents.

Such disputes were normal, Hari said.

The minister also called for the suspension of Pematang Siantar Mayor Marim Purba to face an investigation into his alleged involvement in a Rp 700 million graft case.

"The local legislative council should recommend to the government that Mayor Marim Purba be made non-active because legal proceedings are underway," Hari said

Without such a recommendation, the government cannot make any decision in relation to Marim, he added.