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Jayapura, Irian Jaya (January 23, 1999 - Jakarta Post/Irian-Kabar)---Leading Irianese demanded on Friday an official explanation about the government's reported plan to hold a dialog with local community leaders, which would be aimed at defusing tension over demands for greater autonomy in the province (that borders Papua New Guinea).

Reverend Nato Gobay said from Biak on Friday the government of President B.J. Habibie should give further details of the planned dialog.

As reported earlier, Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tanjung said that Habibie would visit the easternmost province for a discussion with local public figures after the Idul Fitri holiday which fell on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.

"The term 'after the Idul Fitri' can refer to this year's Idul Fitri, or next year's," Nato said.

Akbar, who was on an official visit to the province last month, said the discussion would provide Irianese leaders with an opportunity to talk through their problems with the President, including their desire for greater autonomy or even an Independent State.

He added, however, that Irian Jaya should remain part of Indonesia.

Jayapura Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar has supported the idea of a dialog, saying that it would enable locals "to discuss their aspirations in an open and peaceful way."

"The dialog is needed to find out why Irianese demand independence from Indonesia, " Leo said.

A series of Pro-Independence protests took place in several towns in the mineral-rich province in the middle of last year. In some incidents, protesters hoisted the separatist flag of West Papua.

In a Pro-Independence rally in Biak in July, security forces opened fire with rubber bullets on protesters, wounding 24 people. A further 180 people were arrested during the incident.

A student and a police intelligence officer were killed in another Pro-Independence rally at the Cenderawsih University here a few days earlier.

Pro-Independence protests have been mounting in Irian Jaya since the resignation of former President Suharto on May 21 amid the country's worst economic and political crisis in decades.

Human rights activists have charged the military committed serious human rights abuses in Irian Jaya, East Timor and Aceh during 32 years of Suharto's rule.

The military had been deployed to the provinces to quash small separatist movements.

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