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Papuans demand cancellation of disputed law

Jakarta Post - December 18, 2003

Nethy Dharma Somba, Jayapura – Papuan people concluded a two-day meeting here on Tuesday, recommending that the central government speed up the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) as mandated by the special autonomy law, and revoke controversial Law No. 45/1999 on the partition of the territory into three smaller provinces.

Nearly 1,000 Papuans, including five influential groups – the Papuan women's discussion group, tribal leaders' group, local figures' group, Papuan intellectuals' group and Papuan youth group – attended the meeting.

According to religious figure Rev. Socrates Sofyan Yoman, special autonomy was supposedly an answer to be given by the central government toward mounting demands from Papuan people for independence. "Therefore, the government must implement its policy consistently.

"Special autonomy status, as stipulated by Law No. 22/2001, should be a political compromise between the government and Papuan people. We agree to accept the policy even though we have to pay a huge price for it, that is to drop our dreams of being independent.

"I guess it is the time for the government to seriously implement the policy across our territory, expecting that it can restore our lost dignity," Socrates said.

Another participant at the meeting, Paula Makabori, said that the government had to establish the MRP immediately, arguing, "special autonomy without MRP is meaningless." According to the special autonomy law, the presence of the MRP is aimed at making the province special as compared with other provinces in the country, because the proposed body has a vital political function in determining development policies and the future of the country's easternmost province.

The proposed body should consist of representatives from local religious leaders, tribal leaders and women.

As of today, however, the MRP has not yet been established and the central government is even reviewing the political role of the proposed assembly.

"The government also has to revoke the controversial law on the partition of Papua because it is against the special autonomy law," said Abina Wasanggi from the Papuan women's discussion group.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has been criticized for making a blunder as she issued in mid-August Decree No. 1/2003 on the acceleration of the creation of West and Central Irian Jaya provinces. Irian Jaya is the former name of Papua.

The decree was to implement Law No. 45/1999 on the formation of West and Central Irian Jaya and North Maluku provinces and of Paniai, Mimika, Puncak Jaya and Sorong regencies.

The implementation of the law was delayed by former president B.J. Habibie due to strong opposition from Papuans, and his successor, Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, maintained the postponement, later introducing special autonomy for Papua.

Megawati's policy has encountered strong rejection from local people across Papua and triggered week-long clashes between groups supporting and opposing the partition, resulting in the death of at least five people and injury to a dozen others.

"If the government ignores our recommendations, we shall then ask for a dialog involving national and international elements to seek solutions over problems here, including freedom demands from most of the Papuan people," warned Abina.

Papua council speaker John Ibo said that he would convey the recommendations to the government, hoping the latter would appreciate the growing aspirations in Papua.

The government has recently argued that one of its reasons for dividing Papua into three provinces is to contain the separatist movement. Other reasons are to improve the welfare of the local people and create more opportunities for Papuans to secure positions in local administrations.

The military has been behind the government's attempt to weaken the secessionist movement in the territory. One of the separatist groups, the Free Papuan Movement (OPM), has even launched a low-level, armed struggle since it announced self-declared independence in 1963.