Sun, 24 Aug 2003

Violent birth of new Papuan province

Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Timika, Papua

Violence erupted as hundreds of protesters attacked thousands parading in Timika in support of the controversial formal establishment of the new province of Central Irian Jaya.

Papua, Indonesia's easternmost province, was officially split in three on Saturday, in a move opposed by many indigenous Papuans and widely seen as illegal.

The protesters pelted paradegoers with stones and damaged a truck carrying a placard displaying the new province's name and logo. Riot police eventually contained the situation.

At least three people were injured, two seriously in the violence. It was unclear on which side the injured belonged.

The official inauguration ceremony continued as scheduled, with Mimika regency legislature chairman Andareas Anggaibak reading a joint statement signed by the heads of six regencies in the new province.

The six regencies are Puncak Jaya, Paniai, Mimika, Yapen, Waropen, Biak Numfor and Nabire.

Anggaibak said after the ceremony that the six regents had agreed to accept an interim government appointed by the central government to govern the new province.

"The home minister will appoint an acting governor temporarily before a permanent governor is elected," he said referring to the 1999 regional autonomy law.

The new province's inauguration is based on Law No. 45/1999 on the formation of the provinces of West Irian Jaya and Central Irian Jaya, Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003 on the law's execution and Ministerial Decree No. 18851/171/SJ/2003 on the acceleration of the two provinces' formation.

However, the formation violates special autonomy provisions intended to give Papuans more power over their own affairs, specifically that the formation of the new provinces can only be approved by the Papua People's Assembly (MPR), the establishment of which has continued to be delayed by the central government.

The home minister appointed Abraham O. Atururi as acting governor in February to run the provincial administration in West Irian Jaya. He has been tasked with forming a provincial legislative council that will elect a new governor.

Opponents of the split of the province say the people are not ready as many are uneducated.

Papua governor Jaap Salossa objected to the split, saying the new provinces would not have sufficient educated people to run the provincial administrations. He said the majority of 2.5 million population still lived in remote areas and had not graduated from elementary school.

Local religious leaders also object, calling for a delay.

The House of Representatives has also called for a delay to avoid ethnic conflict among Papuans.

The government claims the split will make it easier for the military to wipe out the Papua Free Movement (OPM) and maintain security and order in the region.

Others say the move is intended to allow the government to be better able to control the province's vast natural resources.