Tue, 30 May 2000

Papua congress to 'rectify' history opens in Irian Jaya

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (JP): A landmark congress on the future of Irian Jaya opened on Monday amid appeals from Jakarta for West Papuans to remain within the republic.

Many delegates arrived at the one-week Papuan People's Congress, being held in the Cenderawasih sports stadium here, hoping for a resolution to call for secession from Indonesia.

The territory, now referred to as West Papua by locals, was a Dutch colony until 1963, after which it became part of Indonesia and was named Irian Jaya. While President Abdurrahman Wahid has agreed to change the name to West Papua, the decision has not yet been formally endorsed by the People's Consultative Assembly.

A youth choir sang hymns and other pieces, including Beethoven's Ode to Joy, to kick off the congress. A series of prayers followed before work began on laying down the rules and procedures for the gathering.

Many of the cars jamming main roads leading to the stadium had "Morning Star" separatist flags hanging from them.

The congress, attended by 2,780 delegates representing different ethnic and professional groups, is being held in a festive atmosphere.

The opening day was attended by Irian Jaya acting governor Musiran Darmosuwito, and local civic, military and religious leaders.

The theme of the gathering is "Let us correct the history of West Papua."

"The history of West Papua should be reviewed to uncover the truth, the truth that could save the Papuans," Agus Alua, chairman of the congress' organizing committee, said.

Musiran told journalists earlier that the question of secession from Indonesia would not be discussed.

"The congress is only to straighten history, it is not for independence," Musiran said, recalling what the organizers had told President Abdurrahman Wahid in Jakarta earlier this year.

The natural resource-rich territory of Irian Jaya was formally recognized by the United Nations in 1969.

Most neighborhoods of Jayapura were empty on Monday as residents converged on the stadium for the congress.

Entry to the congress was strictly limited to delegates and invitees. The congress's own security force, wearing black T- shirts, checked ID cards and bags at the entrance gate.

No security forces or police were seen in or around the venue, leaving the security of the congress entirely up to by some 750 members of the congress security force.

In Jakarta, a seminar attended by youths and community leaders from Irian Jaya closed with a statement saying that separation from Indonesia was not the ideal solution to the Irian Jaya problem.

"Separatist activities have escalated in reaction to prolonged human rights abuses and the military's presence in the province," according to a statement.

The seminar called on the government to stop violence and to withdraw the military from Irian Jaya to create a feeling of safety among the local people.

Umaraskat Sabuku, reading the statement, said the government should investigate mass atrocities committed by the military.

"The central government has taken a financial advantage from the province for a long time and killed too many Papuan people," he said.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the National Liberation Army of the Free Papua Organization (TPN OPM) conveyed their aspirations for an independent West Papua state to Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

The 44-strong delegation was led by commander in chief Gen. Bernardus Mawen.

Megawati for her part insisted that any problems in West Papua must be resolved through dialog and not the use of force, Antara reported.

The Vice President, who visited Irian Jaya this month, said the main problem facing West Papuans today was their welfare. (eba/rms)