IRIAN JAYANS SKEPTICAL OF REFORMS

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By Neville Togarewa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 22, 1998 - The National)--- The Indonesian Government has agreed that very little has been done for the people of Irian Jaya in the past 30 years, but there is hope that the reforms ushered in by President B. J. Habibie may translate into tangible benefits for the two million Irian Jayans.

However, many Irian Jayans, especially those living in Papua New Guinea, are skeptical about what the reforms promise and want a guarantee that the reform program will continue and bring improved political, economic and social changes for them.

More than 140 Irian Jayans living in the National Capital District (NCD) met and discussed wide-ranging issues like reformation, human rights and autonomy with the visiting Governor of Irian Jaya, Freddy Numberi; Indonesian Ambassador to PNG, Benny Mandalika; and other officials at the Port Moresby Travelodge hotel on Friday.

The meeting, which lasted three hours, was unprecedented, as it was the first time that an Irian Jayan governor, let alone Jakarta, had sanctioned such a meeting.

Clemens Runawery, a long-time PNG resident, told Governor Numberi and Ambassador Mandalika that there was a need to be transparent and talk freely about the future of Irian Jayans, adding the military must return to the barracks and the police must be separated from the army.

Governor Numberi accepted that there was no transparency in the past and many decisions taken by the former Suharto regime were "wrong decisions."

"We accept that we have problems but we can tackle these problems now in the context of refomasi (reformation) … The bottom line is the welfare and the benefit of the people," he said.

The governor said many soldiers had returned to the barracks and efforts were being made to give jobs to the people; he was trying his best to increase the budget for the province of Irian Jaya and give the Irian Jayans more political autonomy and representation.

"We have to give Irian Jayans the right to sit at the head of their districts," Mr. Numberi said, adding he kept raising these issues with the central government in Jakarta.

Ambassador Mandalika said developments in the last 30 years had concentrated on setting up "conglomerates" for a privileged few, and the majority of the people had not benefited.

He likened "reformation" to "correction," saying the Government of Indonesia and the people must do everything possible in the context of the reforms to bring changes in the lives of the people, not only in Irian Jaya but other provinces as well.

Governor Numberi has invited Deputy Prime Minister Nali and NCD Governor Philip Taku, his host, to visit Jayapura.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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