Fri, 14 Feb 2003

House endorses division of Papua province

Kurniawan Hari and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The House of Representatives (DPR) endorsed on Thursday the government's controversial move to divide Papua into three provinces, thus giving more legitimacy to the government in moving ahead with the plan despite strong opposition from Papuans.

The House's approval was given after a closed-door meeting attended by leaders of the nine factions in the House, leaders of the House defense commission and home affairs commission, and Papua-born legislators Ruben Gobay, Alex Hasegem and Simon Patrice Morin.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung said that the government's move was only giving effect to Law No. 45/1999 on the partition of Papua into three provinces.

He claimed that Law No. 45/1999 did not contravene Law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy for Papua.

"Both laws are valid ... This means that the division of (Papua) province is acceptable," Akbar said after the meeting.

During the meeting, legislator Effendi Choirie from the National Awakening Party and independent legislator Astrid S. Susanto urged the House to oppose the government's plan as it was opposed by many Papuans and could worsen the separatist problem.

However, other legislators, including legislator Sabam Sirait from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and former chairman of the House committee that deliberated Law No. 21/2001, gave their support.

Sabam, for instance, contended that Papua was four times bigger than Java island and, therefore, its division into three provinces was needed to boost development there.

Over the past days, the Papuan legislators have strongly criticized the government for dividing Papua into three provinces, but on Thursday the very same legislators expressed their agreement to the division.

The House's endorsement has given a boost to the government, with Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno insisting that Papua had been legally spit into three provinces since the president signed Law No. 45/1995.

"The split-up was decided before the issuance of the special autonomy law. It's a fait accompli and the present government is simply giving effect to the law," he remarked.

The minister, nevertheless, gave assurances that the special autonomy law would be implemented in all of the three new provinces and that the revenue from Papua's natural resources would be fairly distributed among them.

"The public should not worry about their welfare after the split as the central government will ensure a fair distribution of revenues," Hari added.

He also disclosed that he would visit Papua later this month to inaugurate 14 new regencies in the province and discuss the split with local administrations there.

"It should be underlined that it will be difficult to manage 28 regencies under the umbrella of one province," the minister said before attending a limited cabinet meeting on Papua.

The House on Thursday also recommended that the government hold regular consultations with House to discuss the implementation of the law on special autonomy for Papua.

It also urged the government to issue a decree on the establishment of the Papua People's Assembly as mandated by the autonomy law. This assembly would need to be consulted by the central government on any important decisions regarding Papua.