Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Students rally to reject C. Irian Jaya province

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Timika, Papua

Hundreds of students occupied the Mimika legislative council building in Papua on Friday to express their opposition to a controversial central government decision to divide the province.

The Communication Forum for Pegunungan Tengah Students (FKMPT), local residents and members of the Amungme tribe vowed to continue the occupation until Saturday, to pressure the government to reverse its plan, which they said would cause further suffering among Papuans and could even lead to ethnic war.

"We, students and people in Pegunungan Tengah, are ready to boycott the 2004 general elections in Papua, particularly in this district, if our demands are not heeded," FKMPT said a statement.

It said splitting the province into Papua, West Irian Jaya and Central Irian Jaya, based on Law No. 45/1999 and Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003, violated autonomy granted to Papua two years ago.

Copies of the statement were sent to President Megawati Soekarnoputri, People's Consultative Assembly speaker Amien Rais and other national leaders.

The demonstrators said the plan ignored the concerns and rights of Papuans who were opposed to it.

"We also firmly reject the leadership of Megawati and (Vice President) Hamzah Haz and urge the central government and the House to form a new government concerned with the poor," the statement added.

Indonesia integrated resource-rich Papua into its territory 40 years ago, but most indigenous Papuans are still dirt poor, despite special autonomy, which aimed to give Papuans more power and a greater slice of profits from the province's resources.

The special autonomy law legislates that the government must establish a Papuan People's Assembly, but it has not eventuated.

Papua Governor Jaap Salossa and the speaker of the Papua legislative council, John Ibo, have expressed their opposition to the establishment of the new provinces.

Ibo said their establishment would violate Article 76 of the special autonomy law, which stipulates that any such move must be approved by the MRP, the establishment of which continues to be delayed by the central government.

National Solidarity for Papua (SNUP) say that establishing the assembly would quell separatism desires among Papuans, who have long harbored resentment over Jakarta's history of human rights abuse and exploitation of the province.

Protest leader Thomas Wanmang said the creation of the new provinces was confusing.

"I don't see that people's welfare will improve after the split of Papua. I think indigenous people will suffer further because of their lack of education," Thomas said.

This would spark ethnic conflicts in Papua due to the widening disparity between the impoverished indigenous people and the more developed migrants, he added.

Mimika legislative council speaker Andreas Anggaibak, who also chairs the Central Irian Jaya establishment committee, said on Friday that the declaration plan would go ahead on Saturday as scheduled, despite mounting opposition.

"We will continue to realize the plan tomorrow (Saturday). No one can delay or cancel it. Such a protest is normal."

The declaration will be marked by the unveiling of a sign bearing the name of the new province in front of the Graha TSD building on Jl. Cendrawasih No. 28 in Timika, the capital of Mimika.

The building will be a temporary home to Central Irian Jaya administration.

The new province was declared by local officials on Feb. 6, 2003.

Andreas said Saturday's declaration ceremony would be attended by the regents of Mimika, Biak Numfor, Yapen, Waropen, Nabire, Puncak Jaya and Paniai.

Leaders of the legislative councils from the eight regencies that make up the new province of Central Irian Jaya would also be present, he said.

Mimika Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Paulus Waterpauw said at least four companies of personnel were being deployed to guard the declaration ceremony.