Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Seram people demand separate regencies

Aziz Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

Hundreds of people in Seram greeted House of Representatives' legislators with a rally to urge the lawmakers to support their demands for new regencies on Maluku island.

Bearing banners stating their desire for separate regencies in West Seram and East Seram, the crowd asked for an unscheduled meeting with the legislators, who arrived at Pattimura airport in Ambon from Jakarta for a visit to the Aru islands in Southeast Maluku.

The meeting forced the legislators to delay their trip until Friday.

Representatives of the protesters insisted during the talks, which were held at the Hotel Amans, that the House support their case, which they had been fighting for since 1997. Some of the local people threatened to attack state assets and set an oil well alight on Seram island, which is part of Central Maluku regency.

Manase Malo, who heads the House's nine-member team, asked the protesters to remain calm and refrain from using violence.

"We will take the people's wishes into account and will bring their demands before a House plenary session. We just need your moral support," said Manase, the legislator in charge of the regional autonomy campaign.

The lawmakers are in Maluku to observe the implementation of regional autonomy, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2001. Since then over 100 new regencies have been formed, bringing the total number of regencies and municipalities to 410.

During the one-hour discussion, the local people also asked the legislators to visit Bula district in the eastern part of Seram on Friday to meet more people who supported the establishment of new regencies on the island.

Another legislator, M. Taher Saimima, said his team would put pressure on the Central Maluku regent and councillors, Maluku provincial council, and governor to accept the Seram people's demands.

Criticizing Maluku officials for a lack of good faith in responding to the people's demands, Taher said the House would consider drafting an initiative bill on the creation of new regencies in Seram.