IRIAN JAYA INDEPENDENCE RALLY SMALLER THAN PROJECTED

JAKARTA, Indonesia (November 12, 1999 –AFP/Kabar Irian)---Claims that hundreds of thousands would attend a pro-independence rally in Irian Jaya failed to materialize Friday, as residents said only about 3,000 turned out to push for an independent Papua state.

Police put the figure at 300.

Pro-independence supporters gathered at the residence of separatist leader Theys Eluay in the Sentani sub district in the provincial capital of Jayapura, said Peter El, a lawyer at the legal aid institute in Jayapura.

"Since morning, people have chartered public vans to attend the rally," El told AFP, adding there was a crowd of about 3,000 and shops and businesses in the town were closed.

But Second Sergeant Simanjuntak of Jayapura police said only 300 attended the rally in the city with a population of 350,000.

"It's not a demonstration. They have come for prayers and thanksgiving," Simanjuntak told AFP, adding the mass prayers were held to celebrate Eluay's birthday who had obtained police permission for the gathering.

Yorris Raweyai, one of the rally organizers had said Wednesday he expected hundreds of thousands to turn out after one million had rallied recently in the province of Aceh to demand a referendum on self determination.

As in Aceh, there have been mounting calls for independence for Irian Jaya since the fall of iron-fisted former president Suharto in May 1998.

El said on Thursday that residents in Timika district had raised the "Morning Star" separatist flag in front of the Three Kings Catholic church there.

"The people have set up tents to guard the flag from being taken down by the authorities," he said.

He said the separatists were planning to stay there until December 1.

A Free Papua state was declared by Irian Jaya leaders in Jayapura while the territory was still under Dutch occupation on December 1, 1961.

But Indonesia claimed Dutch New Guinea as its 26th province of Irian Jaya in 1963 and after UN-supervised polls there the following year, the United Nations recognized Indonesia's sovereignty there in 1969.

Several Irianese leaders visited Jakarta in August to brief then president B.J. Habibie on the calls for independence but he said the state should remain united.

Irian Jaya has also seen rising protests against Jakarta's move to split the huge province, which shares a land border with independent Papua New Guinea, into three separate provinces.

KABAR IRIAN ("Irian News") Website: http://www.irja.org/ 

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