Mon, 27 Aug 2001

Papuans wait impatiently for autonomy -- or freedom

By Ridwan M. Sijabat

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya (JP): A visit to urban areas in Irian Jaya, popularly now known as Papua, offers one of many scenes exposing the much arraigned stark difference among locals and migrants.

Along the streets in the afternoon, those huddled over small tables are Papuan women selling areca nuts and local fruits.

Local, often drunk, youngsters engage in bickering at nightspots, reinforcing the reputation associating them with "social diseases".

In the city, Papuans mostly occupy the blue collar jobs in government offices and private companies. Many work as porters and security guards in airports or conductors on public transportation. Migrants from South and North Sulawesi, Maluku, Java and Sumatra dominate the modern and traditional markets and fill the senior positions in government offices.

Shops, department stores, hotels and entertainment centers in the city are also dominated by the migrants, including those of Chinese descent. Lack of capital and skills among locals are cited as constraints in competing with migrants for better jobs and progress in business.

Compounded with many other inequalities, this condition has given weight to the search for a resolution to the issue of Papuan sovereignty, raised on behalf of more than one million Papuans. The issue dates back to the return of the province to the Republic of Indonesia by the Dutch colonial rulers in 1963.

Since the fall of second president Soeharto, Irianese have become more vocal in drawing attention to their plight. But all promises from Jakarta in past decades have proved to be empty, they say.

Calls for independence have increased, culminating in the Papuan Congress last December. Repeated skirmishes with security personnel, following incidents of raising the Morning Star flag of the independence movement, have led to many casualties.

The most severe incident, in Wamena, led to riots late last year, in which most victims were migrants, although the cause of the riots remain unclear.

A day before Independence Day on Aug. 17, President Megawati Soekarnoputri apologized to the peoples of Aceh and Irian Jaya for past government policies. In response, Papuan separatist leader Don Al Flassy, who is being tried for treason, said the apology had to be followed by efforts to solve human rights violations.

"Now Megawati should look into the root of the problems: why Papuans held a grand meeting and congress, and then expressed their wish to separate from Indonesia," Flassy said.

Papuans no longer politely hide how fed up they are -- they came just short of driving away legislators visiting here in mid- August.

Not all demanded independence, but implied that the bill on special autonomy for Papua should be passed immediately.

Passing the bill immediately and living up to promises of its implementation seems the last chance for the government in facing separatist demands here.

"What kind of trick are you up to again?" barked one among the local informal and religious leaders, and government officials who met with the legislators here.

The legislators were from the House of Representatives' special committee that deliberated the bill on special autonomy for the province, which is expected to water down calls for independence.

The delegates tried to explain their mission to seek more understanding from the Papuans regarding their aspirations, prior to the passing of the bill on Irian Jaya's special autonomy.

The participants from Timika, Biak, Merauke and Jayapura have conveyed their concerns to several governments regarding the province's backwardness in all fields and their resentment of Jakarta.

Saul Bomey, a Papuan rebel who was sent to prison for years under former president Soeharto's regime, asserted that the province's separation from Indonesia was the best solution to the Papua issue.

He admitted that his group, along with other 14 resistance groups, were behind the Dec. 1, 2001, Papuan Congress organized by the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP), and that these groups supported the Congress' main recommendation -- Papua's independence.

Saul said most Papuans had no trust in the Indonesian government following all the lies, human rights abuses and exploitation of the province's natural resources.

Jacob Youwey, an influential informal leader in Timika, where the PT Freeport Indonesia mining firm is based, expressed his skepticism of the government's planned special autonomy for the province. He repeated the common grievance among Papuans of having been deceived by Jakarta too often.

Despite offers of autonomy since 1969, he said, all Papuans have received was repressive treatment and no opportunity to progress in business and education, let alone to acquire important positions in the local administration.

"The Papuans are uneducated and primitive because the government has repressed them in order to keep them stupid and living in a stone age culture so that Jakarta can do everything on its own," Youwey told the House committee.

Papuans are now increasingly stressing their unique ethnicity and culture as compared to the rest of Indonesia. Youwey said that, because of this difference, the government should understand the province's increasing demands for independence.

Rev. Philemon Sawen, an executive member of the Indonesian Community of Churches (PGI), questioned the special committee's mission, because the Papuan people's aspirations were already clearly expressed in the bill. All that needed to be done was immediately pass it, he said. The bill delivers special autonomy to the province in managing its own administration and natural resources.

Quoting the bill, Sawen explained that the Papuans want to establish their own sociocultural identity, to gain full authority in all fields, except defense, monetary and foreign policy, and to gain a major portion of the exploitation of its resources.

"We want to be lords on our own land, so it's best for the committee to go back to Jakarta to pass the bill into law before locals come here to force you to do so," he said.

Orgenes Kambu, who heads the student board of the Papua Institute of Technology and Science in Abepura, warned the central government against deceiving the Papuans with the planned special autonomy, given the absence of trust in Jakarta. They instead want to separate from Indonesia, he said.

He predicted that most people would choose independence if a self-determination referendum was conducted. The province would gradually achieve progress only if it was independent, he said.

Frans Alexander Wospakrik, rector of the Cenderawasih University in Waina, near Jayapura, observed that the fundamental problem in the province was the low quality of its people's education, which had contributed to the disparity between Irian Jaya and the other provinces.

He said that only 10 percent of 1.3 million Papuan people were elementary and high school graduates, while only 1 percent were graduates from academies and universities.

Wospakrik suggested that, under the special autonomy, the local administration should pay special attention to establishing quality schools, academies and universities.

A significant part of the budget, he added, should be allotted to education to enable the hiring of quality teaching staff from other provinces and overseas, and to enable more and more Papuan students to undertake post-graduate and Ph.D. programs overseas to meet the increasing demand for professionals.

Governor J.P. Solossa said the planned special autonomy was expected to bring real changes to Papuans in an attempt to renew their trust in Jakarta and in the Indonesian unitary state.

He estimated that, with the special autonomy, Papua would gain 80 percent, or Rp 24 trillion, of the province's annual revenue of around Rp 30 trillion from the exploration of natural resources and tax collection. A majority of the funds would be allocated to the development of education facilities and infrastructure, including school buildings, markets and highways, to bridge the provincial capital with all remote areas.

In speeding up the development program, the Governor said he is embarking on a policy of affirmation similar to Malaysia's bumiputera (natives) policy, to allow indigenous people to catch up with other people in business, education and government offices.

Solossa said he has promoted numerous Papuans from lower echelons to second and third echelon positions in his office and other government offices. Besides providing additional education programs for them, such a policy was needed to help win the people's support for the government and its development program.

The writer is a journalist with The Jakarta Post.