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'Illegal' polling on Irian's fate underway

Jakarta Post - June 23, 2000

Jayapura – Biak Military chief Lt. Col. Bayu Purwiyono confirmed on Thursday reports that residents of at least 10 villages in the regency had been asked to respond to a poll checking their attitude toward a campaign to set up an independent state in the province.

The officer said people in the districts of West Biak, West Numfor and East Numfor received the forms from certain people, who claimed to be carrying out a government-sanctioned survey. Bayu denied the military's involvement in the polling. "I never ordered the distribution of any such questionnaires. And I do not know from where they came," he added.

Oschar Kabarek, head of West Biak district, alleged that some military personnel were involved in distributing the forms to the Papuans. The polling has been conducted since the day after the Papuan Congress agreed on June 4 to the separation of Irian Jaya from Indonesia.

According to Oschar, the respondents are asked to reply whether they choose a special autonomy for the province or to become an independent state. "I have informed the West Biak Military chief about the polling, and he promised to withdraw the forms quickly from the villages," Oschar told The Jakarta Post by phone.

Leo Wamafma, a Protestant church leader, and Izhak B. Wamafma, chief of Wansra village in West Numfor, claimed to see on June 11 a soldier visit the village and ask the people to fill out the forms.

During the door-to-door survey, the soldier told the villagers to participate in the state polling, said Leo. "Some of the villagers accepted the forms while many just returned the empty forms," said Izhak.

Ottis Alber Msen, a member of the Biak legislative council, deplored the polling because it could provoke new unrest in the territory. "The purpose of the polling is just to create chaos," said Ottis.