Sat, 02 Dec 2000

Dec. 1 observed peacefully in Irian

By Emmy Fitri

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (JP): Police on Friday evening lowered the Morning Star separatist flag in a tense but emotional ceremony which capped the day-long commemoration observance of the 1961 unrecognized declaration of independence.

No incident broke out, except for shouts of protest in the crowd of hundreds of proindependence supporters as the five police personnel brought down the flag and handed it over to Irianese representatives.

Some women were seen crying during the ceremony which marked what could be the last time the flag was hoisted.

Also lowered was the national red and white flag.

Both the government and the proindependence supporters have agreed that the separatist flag will not fly as of Dec. 2, except in five places, namely, Serui, Fakfak, Manokwari, Jayapura and at the peak of the Jayawijaya mountain.

"We took the best and most honorable decision by letting the police, and not ourselves, lower the flag and give it to us in a civil manner," a woman said.

A proindependence leader Silep Karma rose to the stand to calm the protesters, reminding the crowd of possible bloodshed if they insisted on having the flag hoisted and maintain their call for independence.

The ceremony, which took place at the Imbi field finished at around 10.30 p.m. local time. After the program, people were seen massing in small groups, under close watch of security troops.

Also present in the ceremony were the provincial police chief, Brig. Gen. Sylvanus Y. Wenas and the Jayapura police chief Supt. Daud Sihombing.

Several angry people were seen punching Wenas' car as he left the venue. No further incident erupted as others managed to calm them down.

Peace also marked the morning procession held in heavy downpour at the same venue.

Under a heavy security cordon around the field, Irianese, gathered from various parts of the city and nearby towns. They prayed and sang local patriotic songs.

The celebration, which started at around 5 a.m. (local time) was attended by at least a thousand people. A group of around 100 people from the Jayawija mountain, who were clad in their traditional costumes, were applauded when they arrived at the field. They had come to the capital of the province by foot, a journey that took them about two weeks.

The peaceful celebration, however, turned slightly tense when the crowd protested when the emcee told them that they would be treated to songs and traditional dances.

Maky Ofidae shouted that he had come to hear a political announcement from the Papuan Presidium Council and not for entertainment.

"We want freedom and not entertainment. We have given our all for freedom. Where is the accountability of the council?" Maky yelled.

One of the executives of the West Papua National Committee, Barnabas Yufuai, tried to calm the crowd saying that they should not become emotional as the council had agreed with the local administration not to make political statements.

"Let's not only think about today, think of the future. We have a strategy. There are things that should be told (in public) and things not be told . We respect the agreement although we are pressed not to do what our people want," Barnabas said.

The committee then agreed to read out the evaluation of the council's performance. Its success, among others, was having had won permission from President Abdurrahman Wahid to hoist the Morning Star flag. The council, during its participation in the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, had also received support and recognition of its independence from two countries, Vanuatu and Namuru, a success at an international level.

Speaking to reporters after the celebration, Thom Beanal, deputy chairman of the council, maintained that Irianese were ready for independence, ready to secede from the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia and run a modern government.

"We are ready but have not been given the chance yet. In 1961, when we had nothing we were also prepared for independence. Now we have a lot of educated people here, we are even more ready."

"But we also have to play by the rules of the law of the nation in which we are now. Respect for the law is a must," Thom said.

Thom was representing council chairman Theys Hiyo Eluay who has been detained by Jayapura Police along with council secretary-general Thaha Moh. Alhamid, executives Jhon Mambor and Don A.L. Flassy.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, some 200 Irian Jaya students from across Java marked the day with a rally in front of the United States embassy, demanding the withdrawal of the Indonesian Military from the province.

The students also demanded the U.S. hold an international dialog to solve the Irian Jaya problem.

The protest, which began at 10 a.m., turned violent when some police officers forced the group to disperse and arrested five of them.

"Five of our friends were detained at the city police headquarters and two were slightly injured because of the attack by police officers," one of the protesters, Hengki Yoko, said.

The protesters dispersed after the incident.