Mon, 03 Jan 2000

House welcomes new name for Irian Jaya

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid's controversial approval of renaming Irian Jaya as Papua received initial support from members of the House of Representatives on Sunday.

Deputy chairman of House Commission I for defense, foreign and political affairs Astrid Susanto and commission member A. Effendy Choirie welcomed the change, saying that it would silence demands for independence in the easternmost province.

"From an anthropological point of view, Papua's name has been known for a long time. It should not be linked to the Dutch colonials," Astrid, a professor of mass communication, said.

A member of the Love the Nation Democratic Party (PDKB), she said the use of a local term for Irian Jaya, one of the country's natural resource rich provinces, would satisfy the people there.

Proindependence supporters in Irian Jaya have always labeled themselves as Papuans, the word given to the world's largest island. Separatist rebels also prefer Papua to Irian, an Arabic term which means "naked".

The former West Papua was controlled by the Dutch, before Indonesia, who claimed the island due to historical ties, seized it through military operations which were present since the late 1950s. The U.N. handed over the island to the republic in 1969.

Astrid suggested that the House approve the change of Irian Jaya to Papua.

"Of course, it should undergo a constitutional procedure, but we should endorse it. It's not a big deal," she said.

Effendy supported Astrid's view, saying that awarding the people in the easternmost province was in accordance to the growing demand there.

"It's democratic and in line with the principle of regional autonomy. So it's not really an issue," Effendy said. "The same thing applied when the government agreed to change South Sulawesi's capital of Ujungpandang to its old name of Makassar."

The legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB) said any renaming of the country's territory could be tolerated as far as it did not affect the unitary state of Indonesia.

"We would not tolerate it if a change sparks national disintegration or an escalating independence movement," he said.

During his year-end visit to Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya, President Abdurrahman Wahid said the renaming was not due to pressure.

He said he could accept a demand for independence as freedom of expression, but insisted that he would not tolerate any effort to establish a new country within existing borders.

Demands for independence have increased since the resignation of former president Soeharto in May 1998, especially in natural resource rich provinces, notably Irian Jaya and Aceh.

Many attributed the outcry to unfair wealth distribution and past human rights abuses which have occurred in the provinces. (jun)