Sat, 13 Mar 1999

Scholar insists Riau deserves independence

JAKARTA (JP): A scholar insisted on Friday that Riau separate from the Republic of Indonesia if the government's exploitation of natural resources in the oil-rich province continued.

Tabrani Rab, a professor of medicine who loves anthropology, said support had loomed, particularly from students, for his plan to proclaim Riau an independent state. The students are expected to read out the declaration on Monday.

Tabrani denied, however, that he led a separatist movement, saying that he and his supporters possessed no weapons but the spirit to seek a peaceful settlement.

"We are just giving the government an option to resolve the question of the unfair division of our natural resources, particularly oil. It has been a thorn in our flesh for decades," Tabrani said by phone from the Riau capital of Pekanbaru.

He said the province, now home to four million people, contributed at least 24 percent of the projected income for the 1999/2000 state budget worth Rp 400 trillion (US$43 billion). But only Rp 250 billion from the state budget goes into Riau's coffers, according to Tabrani.

"Based on my estimate, Riau's indigenous per capita income has reached $2,800, thanks to its oil reserves. But it's very strange to see one out of four Riau people living below the poverty line," Tabrani said.

Oil exploitation in Riau produces at least 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day, more than half of the country's daily oil output.

Tabrani said that Riau people's repeated demand for 10 percent of income from oil exploitation had gone unheeded.

He went on to say representatives of people in the province had in the past proposed either independence or affiliation to Malaysia.

"Now that several provinces are demanding independence or autonomy, we think we can follow suit," said Tabrani, a 60-year- old nominated by his supporters as president if an independent Riau state comes into being.

But Tabrani said he would delay the declaration of independence for a year if it would pit Riau people against security forces.

Tabrani met with Col. M. Gadillah, the local military commander to clarify the planned declaration. Gadillah told Antara on Friday that he believed Tabrani would cancel the plan.

"We discussed on Wednesday what we would gain and lose if Riau were to break away from the republic. He understood that his idea would only cause, instead of solve, problems as happened in Aceh and Irian," Gadillah said.

Riau Governor Saleh Djasit also played down Tabrani's plan, saying that it came as a mere expression of disappointment.

"They are not serious. We still love the Republic of Indonesia," Saleh said Friday.

Chairman of the Supreme Advisory Board Arnold Baramuli, on his trip to Pekanbaru, derided the planned declaration of independence.

"It is a joke, because I've never heard in Riau history of its people demanding independence," Baramuli said. But he promised he would take the demand for a fair share of oil income to President B.J. Habibie.

Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Affairs Feisal Tanjung, who accompanied Baramuli on the visit, blasted the independence initiative and accused Tabrani of plotting treason.

"We (the government) will put down those who demand an independent state in Riau. Their proposal is against the Constitution," Feisal said.

In Jakarta, former minister of home affairs Rudini said the demands for independence surfacing in several provinces were intolerable, except for East Timor which joined Indonesia in 1976. But he asked the government to examine why they have emerged.

"Such a separatist call is irrelevant but will seriously threaten national unity if the government fails to respond to it with concrete measures," said Rudini, a former minister of home affairs who now heads the Elections Committee. (edt/amd)