Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Government postpones plan to divide Papua

Tiarma Siboro and Netty Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Papua

The government has bowed down to mounting public pressure to postpone indefinitely the division of Papua into three provinces, and has said it will review several rulings on the province for the so-called synchronization.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in Jakarta on Wednesday that the situation in Papua had been reverted to the status quo -- that the recent inauguration of West and Central Irian Jaya provinces had been retracted.

He said the government would review three contentious rulings on Papua to clarify its policy in the province.

The three rulings are: Law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy, Law No. 45/1999 on the formation of West and Central Irian Jaya and North Maluku provinces and of Paniai, Mimika, Puncak Jaya and Sorong regencies, and Presidential Decree No. 1/2003 on the accelerated formation of West and Central Irian Jaya.

The statement was issued following heightened opposition to the province's split into three, and three days of clashes between groups supporting and opposing the partition.

The situation in the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura and Timika has been escalating since hundreds of indigenous tribespeople descended from the highlands on Saturday to attack migrant groups supporting the inauguration of Central Irian Jaya province.

Susilo explained that the presidential decree issued by President Megawati Soekarnoputri early this year would be reviewed, because it was supposed to be part of the implementation of Law No. 45/1999. The implementation of this law was delayed by former president B.J. Habibie due to strong opposition from the local people, and the postponement was maintained by former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.

"For political and administrative reasons, the President has decided to put off the division of Papua into three provinces.

"Now we are reevaluating all policies and rulings on Papua and it (Papua) retains its status quo," Susilo told reporters after a security meeting.

He said the government would take economic and socio-cultural factors into account before deciding whether to split the province or not.

He said the review would also include the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), which "is supposedly not to be a fully empowered political body".

"The establishment of the MRP should not complicate the rulings' implementation," Susilo said, and that the MRP would not be as powerful as stipulated in the Special Autonomy Law.

So far, the government has been reluctant to establish the MRP, which has been given greater decision-making power under the Special Autonomy Law. Although the provincial legislature submitted a draft proposal on the formation on the MRP and its members last year, Jakarta has not responded to date.

Entering the fifth day of violent clashes on Wednesday, at least three dozen people were injured, while three people have been killed and many others injured in the first four days since the declaration on Saturday.

Thousands of people from both camps have engaged in open fighting in the streets, using spears, arrows and other traditional sharp weapons.

Some 150 police reinforcements were flown from Jayapura to the town of Timika, but failed to stop the clash.

Papua Governor Jaap Salossa and provincial police chief Insp. Gen. Budi Utomo arrived in Timika to reconcile the warring camps for fear that the conflict would spread to other areas in the province.

"We are trying to persuade them to accept another form of compensation," Budi said. "It may include the slaughter of pigs, (which are) highly prized animals in the local culture," he said.

Budi said the dispute turned violent because "people who do not understand politics have been involved in the conflict".

He did not elaborate further.

Tom Beanal, secretary-general of the pro-independence Papua Presidium Council (PDP), also arrived in Timika and was mediating between the two camps.

"The clash has occurred because the central government failed to socialize the plans (to divide Papua) to locals," he said.

"Locals do not accept the plans, but why was the government reluctant to intensify its approach and talk to them?"

The mountainous 411,000-square-kilometer territory has a population of about 2.2 million, and is rich in natural resources.

Jakarta has faced sporadic armed insurgencies fighting for an independent Papua since Indonesia took control of the territory in 1963 from Dutch colonialists.

As with Aceh, Jakarta's history of violence in the province has cultivated a suspicion among the Papuan people that any move taken by the government would only be for its benefit and not for the welfare of the indigenous population.