Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Govrnment told to solve Irian problems

JAKARTA (JP): Activists urged the government to resolve the problems which sparked the violence in Wamena, Irian Jaya, earlier this month, saying lingering discord could trigger wider turmoil more severe than the Maluku and Aceh conflicts combined.

Maj. Gen. (ret) Samsudin of the National Commission on Human Rights said an escalation in the violence was possible, because an antagonistic mood had permeated various sections of society in the area.

Earlier, the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy jointly suggested that the government hold political negotiations with the Irianese on the overall situation in the country's easternmost province.

Samsudin said the impact of the "localized" riot also caused a division of groups: the mountain dwellers who are viewed as independence supporters, and those living in coastal areas and migrants, who are seen as anti-independence.

It also is feared that the actions of security forces will aggravate the situation further, widening what was a communal conflict between these clusters into one which would also involve the security forces, he said.

Violence in Wamena, some 290 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital of Jayapura, erupted on Oct. 6 after security forces tried to take down separatist Morning Star flags. At least 31 people died in the violence, most of them migrants.

Local police have questioned 23 people over the clashes, including five members of the proindependence Papuan Presidium Council.

Samsudin, who visited Wamena shortly after the violence, warned that what could develop is a combination of the crisis in Maluku, where there is widespread community animosity, and Aceh, where there is armed opposition against the authorities.

To prevent further outbreaks of violence, Samsudin urged the government to promote a community reconciliation presided over by local elders, without involving the military, police or local officials.

"The police or military cannot arrest the culprits believed to have instigated the Oct. 6 riot because it would likely increase people's resistance, which eventually could lead to another armed conflict," he told The Jakarta Post.

"We suggest a reconciliation prior to a peace-making ceremony among the sectors of society, thereby not abandoning the rights of the riot victims," he said during a break in a plenary meeting of the rights commission here.

Samsudin said he was informed by a police officer that the police were hesitant to take action against the instigators of the incident because they wanted to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

"Everyone should handle this delicate problem carefully, and it must be done quickly," Samsudin said. (bby)