Mon, 14 Apr 2003

Minister increases Papua confusion

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura, Papua

Home affairs minister Hari Sabarno has added to the confusion surrounding the partition of the autonomous province of Papua into three provinces -- Papua, Central Irian Jaya, and West Irian Jaya.

While emphasizing that the government would need one full year to prepare for the partition of the country's easternmost province, Minister Hari said in Jayapura, Papua, on Saturday that Abraham O. Atururi was the legitimate governor of West Irian Jaya province.

Yet, Hari, who visited Papua last Saturday to swear in 11 new regents in Papua, also said that there was only one governor in the province, namely the incumbent J.P. Salossa.

The confusion started early this year when President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued Decree No. 1 of 2003, which accelerated the division of Papua province, whose size is triple that of Java island.

The decree, however, immediately drew strong protests from most Papuans, who argued that the move violated Law No. 25 of 2001, which granted the province special autonomy.

Under the special autonomy arrangement, any move to partition the province would need to be endorsed by the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), the highest legislative body in autonomous Papua.

As this assembly has not been established yet, Papuans and most analysts in Jakarta suspect that the partition is designed to weaken the low-level, poorly organized secessionist campaign mounted by the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

Minister Hari said on Saturday that the government needed one year to complete the technical preparations for the establishment of the new provinces, implying that the division had not yet taken place.

He said Presidential Decree No. 1/2003 did not stipulate the exact time for the establishment of the new provinces, but nevertheless condoned Abraham's move to inaugurate the province of West Irian Jaya in Manokwari in February.

The move, he said, was completely acceptable based on Law No. 45/1999, which split the province into three and appointed Abraham as the governor of West Irian Jaya province.

Bowing to pressure from Papuans, former president Abdurrahman Wahid issued a decree indefinitely delaying the implementation of the law.

Law No. 25, 2001 on special autonomy for Papua makes no reference to Law No. 45, 1999.

"It is completely legitimate if he (Abraham) claims to be the West Irian Jaya governor," said Hari, adding that Abraham's duties were to prepare the necessary infrastructure for the new province.

"Abraham is not allowed to administer the territory of West," said Hari, adding that Governor Salossa was still in charge of all of Papua.

"There will be a new presidential decree issued on West Irian Jaya province," Hari said without saying when it would be promulgated.

Abraham told The Jakarta Post earlier that he had still lacked staff and an office.

"I only manage the preparations, such as preparing for the establishment of the provincial council to elect a definitive governor and deputy governor," he said.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has said that the division of Papua has major political ramifications as the 2004 elections nears.

The former ruling party, Golkar, still dominates the provincial government and legislature while supporters of its main rival, Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), have accused the governor of using special autonomy revenues to beef up Golkar's 2004 war chest.

Golkar members suggest that the division into three provinces would benefit the rival party and enable the new governors to divert funds to the local PDI Perjuangan campaigns.

"The overriding motivation behind the decree appears to have been the weakening of the Papuan independence movement, but far from lessening the possibility of conflict, the decree may actually increase its rich province to be a single territorial unit," the ICG said in its report.