APSN Banner

Irian Jaya leaders demand autonomy

Jakarta Post - July 29, 1998

Jakarta – The Irianese community in Jakarta called on President B.J, Habibie yesterday to grant immediate autonomy to their home province and accused the central government of failing to bring prosperity to their territory.

Leaders of the Irian Jaya community also demanded a change in the name of their province to West Papua, saying that Irian was not a name but an acronym for Ikut Republic Indonesia anti-Nederland (Join the anti-Netherlands Republic of Indonesia). "We want the government to grant autonomy to Irian Jaya in the form of 'one nation, two systems'," they said in a petition signed by 100 leaders of the Irianese community in Jakarta.

Their demands did not stop at autonomy. "We, the people of Irian Jaya will abandon the unitary state of the Republic Indonesia and become an independent and sovereign state if human rights violations continue in Irian Jaya, or if the country begins to head toward a political system dominated by certain groups or religions," they said.

They urged Habibie to open a dialog with church and community leaders in Irian Jaya to gain an insight into their aspirations. Their statement contradicted the government's claims that Irian Jaya's status as an integral part of Indonesia was settled by a UN-sponsored plebiscite in 1962.

The government statement was issued in response to violent clashes between student protesters and soldiers in Jayapura and Biak in which one student died earlier this month. The students were calling for a referendum on Irian Jaya's future status.

The statement was issued by the Association of the Irian Jaya Community in Jakarta, an organization headed by Yorrys Th. Raweyai, who is also a leading figure in the Golkar-affiliated Pemuda Pancasila youth organization Other signatories to the statement include A.L. Marani, who in 1963 took part in the campaign to free Irian Jaya from the Netherlands and unify it with Indonesia, as well as numerous scholars and religious leaders.

Activist David Obadiri told a media briefing that "Papuans" – he refused to call them Irianese" – were not demanding autonomy or a separate state because they hated Indonesia. "We love the country so much that we have given up all our government posts, from the highest to the lowest, (to outsiders). We have given up our gold deposits, and even our dignity," he said.

Extensive gold deposits are mined by PT Freeport Indonesia, an affiliate of the giant American mining company Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold Inc, in a huge copper mine in the interior of Irian Jaya. The Irianese community leaders said their "Indonesian brethren" had consistently violated the human rights of the people of Irian Jaya. Quoting church sources, Yorrys said that as many as 200,000 Irianese had been "eliminated" over the past 35 years.

Other groups and leaders in Irian Jaya also pressed for changes in the status of their province yesterday. The Association of University Students of Irian Jaya in a statement received here called for "a separation from the Republic of Indonesia and the formation of a nation called 'West Papua"'. The statement was signed by Marthinus A. Werimon, Ronald R. Tapilatu Johanis R. Ronsumbre, Max R. Krey, John L. Randongkir, and Magdalena Okoseray.

Theis Eluay, chairman of the Irian Jaya Community Foundation, endorsed the call for a dialog with Habibie, but stressed that the majority of the people in Irian Jaya wanted no less than full independence. "We could hold an international dialog if necessary," Eluay told the Post by phone from Jayapura.

Abdul Gafur, a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives who is heading an investigation into this month's clashes, said from Jayapura that the recent spate of unrest was more a reflection of discontent at the frequent injustices suffered by the people of Irian Jaya, rather than a genuine desire for a separate state, Antara reported.

[According to Tapol, on July 24 a number of NGOs, including LINGKAR 21, the Biological Science Club, the Amungme council LEMASA, FOKER Irian, YALI Irian, WWF Indonesia, the environmental organisation WALHI and others, held a demonstration outside the Ministry for Mining and Energy in Jakarta. The demonstrators were calling for the Lorentz National Park in West Papua to become a World Heritage site, for an end to all mining within the conservation area and for respect for the native inhabitants - James Balowski.]