Mon, 22 May 2000

Megawati's flying visit disappoints thousands

SORONG, Irian Jaya (JP): Thousands of residents were left disappointed on Sunday after a long wait to meet Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri ended fruitlessly here.

The Vice President's visit began and ended on the outskirts of town and lasted just 20 minutes.

Thousands of anxious residents had gathered at the airport in anticipation of the Vice President's arrival. Many had also lined-up along the main streets leading to the airport expecting that she would be passing by.

It is unclear whether they were misinformed or whether there was a change in the schedule, but there seemed to be an air of expectancy of her arrival.

But Megawati did not even set foot in Sorong. The helicopter taking her from Manokwari transported the vice president directly to an out-of-town transmigration site about 10-kilometers east of Sorong.

During the brief stopover, she met with a few transmigrants who lived in three run-down houses that had neither electricity nor running water.

After saying a few sympathetic words, she was again up in the air and heading for Biak.

Residents in Sorong claim that she was due to spend the night here. There was no explanation from officials on the Vice President's schedule.

Failing to even get a glimpse of the Vice President, thousands of residents here vented their frustration by wrecking a car parked near the airport.

The situation was not allowed to deteriorate as police quickly moved in to quell any further outbreaks.

"We only wanted to get a glimpse of her face. We fell let down," said one Javanese transmigrant who had moved to Sorong.

A. Sewa, a local tribal leader, said residents had even prepared a special welcoming ceremony for her in an open field.

"We had prepared a traditional ceremony and many of us had donned out traditional clothes. There was going to be a complete ceremony," he said.

"We're all so very disappointed," he said, adding that "Papuans wanted to greet her as a mother and express their grievances."(eba)