Sat, 04 Nov 2000

Solution to Papua issue still far away: Bishop

CARINGIN, Bogor, West Java (JP): A comprehensive solution to the Irian Jaya problem is still far way as both the government and the proindependence Papua Council Presidium (PDP) refuse to budge from their respective positions, Jayapura Bishop Mgr. Leo Laba Ladjar OFM said.

Leo criticized the government for not doing enough to break the deadlock while support for the separatist resistance seems to be growing.

"Following the appointment of Gen. Surojo Bimantoro as National Police chief, the security authorities have taken a repressive stance in quelling activities aimed at separating the province from the Indonesian unitary state while the local people are of the opinion that their land is being occupied and they are facing a colonial administration that must be driven away," he told The Jakarta Post here on Thursday.

Leo, an influential spiritual figure in the province, regretted the use of force in the lowering of the Morning Star separatist flags that led to the violent riot in the hinterland town of Wamena, saying it inflicted an unforgivable wound in the hearts of the indigenous population.

He added that an independent fact-finding team set up by the Papuan Religious Leaders Council, which he himself chairs, was still investigating the incident.

The bishop conceded that the Morning Star flag had been widely accepted by the locals as a symbol of the province's independence.

That was why the people in Wamena were angered when their flags were torn and dumped as trash, he said.

"Following the weeklong bloody riot in Wamena, the situation in the province is still tense, the government has reinforced the presence of military and police personnel in urban and rural areas but the Free Papua separatist movement has won the hearts of the majority of the Irianese people," he said.

Leo said despite the restored security and order in the town, the incident has sowed a deep hatred for the government, with most Irianese no longer believing in the government's good will in seeking a comprehensive solution to the problem.

"Up to now, the relationship between the indigenous people and migrants are not as friendly as it was in the past. Security authorities, especially the reinforced Mobile Brigade, have gone ahead with their repressive approach, and rebels with the cooperation of their supporters have accelerated their resistance.

"Under such a tense situation where people are suspicious of one another, minor problems can trigger major violence similar to the Wamena incident," he said.

Leo warned the government and security authorities of a possible escalation of separatist activities.

He said despite the reinforced security, the situation could be dangerous if the separatist movement gains sufficient supply of weapons from its overseas supporters. He added that rebels living in the deep forest also controlled strategic areas.

"And, if physical confrontation between the government and the rebels continues, no peaceful solution can be reached," he said.

Asked on a role that can be played by religious leaders in mediating the problem in the predominantly Christian province, Leo said the churches had taken a neutral position.

"We are ready to do so... but, for which side?. Of course, the Catholic church has to take the people's side for the sake of humanity and faith, not politics," he said.

He said it would be better for the government to commence dialogs with all sides, while accelerating development in all fields, to gradually regain the people's confidence.

"With the strong influence of the Church, the indigenous people will gradually gain more confidence in the Indonesian state and forget the issue of independence.

"But the government has to be serious in developing the province and security authorities must abandon their repressive approach and bring a new mission to protect the people to create a feeling of security among them," he said. (rms)