Sun, 28 May 2000

President cancels plan to open Papua Congress

JAKARTA (JP): Presidential aides confirmed here on Saturday that President Abdurrahman Wahid has canceled plans to open Monday's Papua Congress in Jayapura, over fears that his presence would be interpreted as tacit support for the province's independence.

Acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan said the president's decision was based on the advice of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri who feared the political fallout if the president attended the congress.

But, according to Bondan, the president did order provincial officials to attend the congress.

"If the president attends the event, it can be interpreted as tacit support for the Papuans' separatist ambitions," Bondan said after a meeting with Abdurrahman and a group of visiting Irian leaders at Merdeka Palace.

The 20-member group was led by Bernardus Mawen, a self- promoted general in supreme command of the so called West Papua Liberation Army.

As an expression of his sympathy for participants of the congress, the president donated Rp 1 billion, or one third of the total money needed to finance the meeting, Bondan noted.

"The donation has already been misrepresented as the president's symbolic support for the struggle to become an independent state," Bondan said.

Bondan, who is also secretary of government supervision said, the president's plan was discussed by the Cabinet on Wednesday.

The vice president, who has just completed a five-day tour of Irian Jaya, recommended Abdurrahman avoid the congress.

Abdurrahman had previously told Bernardus that he was ready to open the congress, which is scheduled to be attended by about 5,000 participants from across the province.

During Saturday's meeting, Abdurrahman also assured Bernardus that the government would not interfere with the congress if the meeting was focussed solely on voicing their aspirations.

"However, if they truly commit themselves to concrete separatist actions, the government will take stern measures against the struggle," Bondan remarked.

According to Bondan, Bernardus pledged that his organization would refrain for now from committing any significant actions.

Separately, Bernardus said he bluntly told the president his request to Indonesia was very simple, and hoped that Indonesia would also give simple answer.

"We just want to regain our independence," Bernardus said.

Meanwhile thousands of Irianese people have arrived in Jayapura for the congress. They have come from the regencies of Fakfak, Sorong, Monokwari, Nabire, Paniai, Puncak Jaya and Yapen Waropen and Merauke.

The separatist Morning Star flag dominated the city. And about 1,000 West Papuan Task Force members patrolled the city, especially Cendrawasih Sport Hall, the congress venue, as part of its mission to safeguard the congress,

News of Abdurrahman's cancellation did not reach the city until late Saturday afternoon where people were still anticipating the president's arrival.

Agus Alua, the congress' organizing committee chairman, was still hopeful that both Abdurrahman and People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais would be able to accept the invitation to attend the congress.

On another subject, palace officials revealed that Abdurrahman was going on Saturday evening for a night's stay in the Thousand Islands, just north of Jakarta Bay.

No one would reveal the purpose of the stay which is being described as a private weekend tour for the first family.

The President spent Saturday night aboard the Naval warship KRI Arun. They are scheduled to return to Jakarta Sunday afternoon.

"It is a private visit, we don't precisely know his schedule there," a Palace official said when asked about the visit.

Abdurrahman is not known as someone who particularly enjoys the great outdoors or spending weekends fishing like former President Soeharto, who often went angling in the Thousand Islands.

Abdurrahman is better known to prefer a good joke or conversation for his relaxation. (eba/prb)