Mon, 08 Mar 1999

Government urged to take concrete steps on Irian Jaya

JAKARTA (JP): An Irian Jaya leader and a Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) official on Saturday urged the government to take concrete measures to respond to growing demands for the province's independence.

"We want a peaceful... solution for Irian Jaya. As the church representatives, we sense the Irianese seriously want to be independent. And for PGI, freedom is people's basic right," said Phil Erari, the head of research and development at the Christian organization, on Saturday.

In a joint media briefing, Phil and Amungme tribal chief Tom Beanal called on the government to put Irian Jaya on its serious political agenda.

"As church representatives, we've heard Irianese aspirations based on the actual conditions... they live in misery. Many dreadful incidents have happened there but remain covered," Phil said.

Another dialog between Irian Jaya people and the government is to be held this month as the next step in the search for a solution to the fate of the Irianese, he said.

"Do not engineer things. Let the people speak up," Phil urged the government.

He asserted the last dialog between the Irianese and President B.J. Habibie in Jakarta on Feb. 26 had failed to uncover the whole truth about the Irianese people's desire for independence.

Phil, who is a member of PGI's task force for Irian Jaya, claimed that all 15 district representatives in the province actually wanted independence, and aired this aspiration in the meeting with Habibie.

Habibie reportedly did not give a direct response to the demands. He told the delegation to reconsider and think about the consequences of the option, saying abundant natural resources alone were not a sufficient guarantee for their future.

Phil said he hoped that if Habibie's government failed to meet people's aspirations, the next government would be able to accommodate Irian Jaya's wish for independence.

"We understand the government cannot make any quick decisions on Irian Jaya as this is a very serious political as well as economic matter," he added.


Tom Beanal, however, repeated his long-standing position that the Irianese wanted to establish their own state. He described how for decades they had been the victims of government exploitation, receiving nothing in exchange for the vast wealth extracted from the province.

"People were brutally killed and went missing in Papua (Irian Jaya). This is an accumulation of 35 years of misery. We do not want wide-ranging autonomy, we do not want a federal state.

"We want to be free.

"If the government doubts our ability to cope with the consequences of standing on our own... it's too late to think in such a way. We have been abandoned for so long, we have become tough and we believe we can survive," Tom said.

Tom revealed the results of a recent survey on several areas in Irian Jaya. A total of 14,000 questionnaires were distributed among residents, and 13,775 were returned. Of these, 13,753 respondents said they wanted independence.

"The remaining said they want wide-ranging autonomy. Similar surveys conducted by community leaders also found the people desired freedom. So this has taken on a snowball effect," Tom said.

Chairman of PGI Sularso Sopater told The Jakarta Post by phone on Saturday the organization still supported Irian Jaya as a province and an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia.

"But it does not mean that we are deaf to Irianese people's mounting demands for independence. That is why we became a facilitator to open a dialog between the people and the government.

"Now it is up to the government to decide. We're here to present the truth about people's aspirations."

On the basis of a United Nations-sponsored New York agreement between the Netherlands, the former colonial power, and Indonesia, West Irian became part of Indonesia in May 1963. Ten years later, then president Soeharto renamed the province Irian Jaya (Glorious Irian).

Separately, Territorial Assistant of Trikora/VIII Military District Command Col. Wais Ningkeula said in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya, that Habibie's call for the Irianese to "reflect" on their demands did not mean he was encouraging them to seek independence. Rather, he speculated, Habibie wanted them to develop the province and improve on people's welfare.

"Do not be obsessed (by independence)," Wais said, saying Irian Jaya people have achieved some progress over the years. (edt/34)