Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Following clashes, govt told not to divide Papua

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Following fatal clashes between opponents and supporters of the establishment of Central Irian Jaya province, the government has come under pressure for its decision to partition the country's easternmost province, Papua.

"The government must take law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy as a reference because it is the most recent legislation on Papua," said Agung Pambudi, director of the Regional Autonomy Watchdog (KPPOD), on Monday.

Violent clashes broke out on Saturday after government officials in Timika declared the establishment of Central Irian Jaya province despite strong opposition from local people.

The violence continued into Sunday and Monday, with thousands from both camps engaging in open street fighting using spears, arrows and other traditional weapons. At least two people, one from each side, had been killed as of Monday evening.

The central government decided earlier this year to slice Papua up into three provinces -- Papua with its capital of Jayapura, Central Irian Jaya with capital in Timika and West Irian Jaya with its capital in Manokwari.

The policy is based on Law No. 45, 1999 on the creation of Central Irian Jaya, West Irian Jaya and North Maluku provinces, but it contradicts Law No. 21, 2001 on special autonomy for Papua.

Law 21 should have rendered law 45 void for Papua as the former grants special autonomy status for the province in its pre-1999 form, or one large province.

The special autonomy law also stipulates that any move to split up the province requires prior approval from the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), which is supposed to consist of leaders of tribes and religious groups in the province as well as noted public figures.

However, the MRP, whose tasks were to include endorsing regulations issued by local legislatures, was never established by the central government as required by the law.

Some Papuan leaders have accused the government of sabotaging the special autonomy law.

Former Irian Jaya Governor Barnabas Suebu called on the government on Monday to take necessary action to stop the bloody conflicts resulting from the division of Papua.

August Kaviar, former rector of state-owned Cendrawasih University (UNCEN), suggested that the central government hold a dialog with the provincial administration to find the best solution to the conflict.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on Home Affairs Minister Hari Sabarno and local officials on Monday to take necessary action to stop the conflict.

"We know that our brothers in Papua still have many different perceptions about the division.

"So we hope the central government, local government, the House of Representatives, and local legislators will join hands in implementing the special autonomy law as well as dividing the province," he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

A member of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) John Fachiri said Minister Hari Sabarno must be held responsible for the deadly clashes, because he had been pushing for the split of Papua.

The minister, however, denied suggestions that he had pressed for the declaration of Central Irian Jaya province.

"The government has never pushed for the declaration, because politically and legally the province already exists," the minister said.

Local councillor Yance Kayame planned to take the controversy to the newly established Constitutional Court to get it settled.

Former president B.J. Habibie enacted the law splitting the province into three in 1999, ostensibly to speed up development in the territory.

Due to opposition from the people, the government delayed implementation of that law indefinitely.

In January this year, however, President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued a presidential instruction, declaring the implementation of the 1999 law. Controversy emerged following the President's decision, but the move to split the province trudged forward despite its unpopularity.