IRIAN JAYA IS DEMANDING GREATER AUTONOMY AND PERHAPS INDEPENDENCE

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National Public Radio "All Things Considered" Report December 16, 1999 Reporter: Michael Sullivan

Noah Adams: East Timor's recent vote for independence from Jakarta has fanned separatist sentiments in two other provinces: Aceh and Irian Jaya. Both have fought for years against control by Indonesia, and in both regions, people have bitter memories of human rights abuses at the hands of the Indonesian military. But Indonesia is unlikely to let go of either province without a fight. That's especially true of Irian Jaya, which is rich in natural resources. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Irian Jaya's capital, Jayapura.

SULLIVAN: Irian Jaya is the easternmost of Indonesia's provinces, nearly 3,000 miles from the capital, Jakarta, making up the western half of the island of New Guinea. It is a land of 15,000-foot mountains, dense tropical forest and white sandy beaches like this one near the capital, Jayapura.

(Soundbite of surf)

SULLIVAN: The name Irian is an acronym coined by Indonesia's founding father, Sukarno, in 1963, as he tried to wrest control of the territory known as West Papua from the Dutch. 'Irian' is short for 'join the republic of Indonesia against the Netherlands. 'Jaya' means victory.

Though Indonesia won its independence from the Dutch in 1949, the Netherlands held on to West Papua well into the '60s, and began preparing the Papuans for independence. It didn't happen. Instead, in a UN-supervised vote marked by intimidation from Jakarta, the territory voted in 1969 to become part of Indonesia. For 29 of the 30 years that followed, Irian Jaya was designated a special military zone of operations. That gave the military almost unlimited power in dealing with a small number of armed guerrillas and others critical of Jakarta's rule. Willie Mondawen is with the Forum for Reconciliation of Irian Jayan Society.

WILLIE MONDAWEN (Forum for Reconciliation of Irian Jayan Society): The West Papuans have been put in the position of a people who are colonized, and there is no democracy, and they can be killed for any reasons of maintaining the Indonesian sovereignty. They are not treated as humans.

SULLIVAN: Maintaining its sovereignty over Irian Jaya is crucial for Jakarta, both politically and economically.

DENNIS HEFFERNAN (Van Zorge Heffernan): Irian has everything from asbestos to zinc. It's all there.

SULLIVAN: Dennis Heffernan is a partner with Van Zorge Heffernan, a business consulting group in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

HEFFERNAN: It's heavy concentrations of gold, perhaps 15 percent of the world's gold reserves. It has something approaching 10 or 15 percent of the world's oil reserves. They have just discovered and certified billions and billions of dollars' worth of natural gas in Irian, so the horn of plenty is a way to describe the natural resource gifts that exist in Irian Jaya.

SULLIVAN: Many Papuans complain bitterly that Jakarta has plundered the province's natural resources while offering little to the indigenous people in return. They are also wary of Jakarta's efforts to resettle thousands of immigrants from other parts of Indonesia to Irian Jaya.

(Soundbite of digging)

SULLIVAN: Fifty miles from the capital, Jayapura, hundreds of acres of forest have been cleared for planting, and a farmer named Suhahdeen is busy clearing weeds from his cornfield. Suhahdeen came here from central Java 15 years ago, lured by the government's offer of four acres of land and a small house in which to live. Suhahdeen says the move was a good one.

SUHAHDEEN (Farmer): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: 'In Java,' he says, 'there's not enough land and the only way we could get any was to join the transmigration program. I'm happy I came,' he says, 'because now I have lots of fertile land and it's easy to sell the corn and soybeans that I grow here. It's impossible to have what I have here back in Java,' he says.

But many Papuans see the transmigration program as a deliberate attempt by Jakarta to alter the demographics of the province and marginalize the Papuans in their own land. The immigrants are given free land and housing, the Papuans say, while they receive little. The central government's decision in September to divide Irian Jaya into three provinces only confirmed many Papuans' suspicions. John Grumbiach heads the Institute for Human Rights Studies in Irian Jaya.

JOHN GRUMBIACH (Institute for Human Rights Studies in Irian Jaya): I believe this is politically a way of dividing the West Papuans because that will create--you know, put more and more migrants coming in and then land rights problems will, you know, emerge and militarism will be very high. If you have three provinces, then you will have three military commands, and that will make the human rights situation here worse.

SULLIVAN: After several large-scale demonstrations, Jakarta has, for the time being, shelved its plans to divide the province. And beginning next year, says the deputy governor here, John Djopari, the government will begin limiting the number of outsiders and focus on providing better services for indigenous Papuans. He says Jakarta has also agreed to allow the province to keep more of the money generated from the province's natural resource wealth. But Djopari says independence is not an option.

JOHN DJOPARI (Irian Jaya Deputy Governor): If the whole country is disintegrated, there's a possibility for independence for Irian Jaya. But if not, if the republic (unintelligible) still as the unit of state, it's difficult to get that.

SULLIVAN: While many Papuans will tell you that independence is their preference, most concede it won't happen anytime soon, in part because of a lack of leadership and in part because of a lack of cohesion. Jimmy Ejay, who heads the Papua Human Rights Center, says Irian Jaya isn't East Timor.

JIMMY EJAY (Papua Human Rights Center): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: 'Our situation is very different from that in East Timor,' he says. 'The Timorese have one leader, Xanana Gusmao, and a spiritual leader, Bishop Belo. In Irian Jaya we have 285 tribes, and all of them want to be on top. We're not united,' he says, 'not yet.' But the Papuans are united in one thing, the desire for a genuine dialogue with Jakarta that addresses what the Papuans see as their forced integration into Indonesia and the human rights abuses that followed. If that happens, some here say, the Papuans may be willing to settle for greater autonomy and an apology. Willie Mondawen of the Forum for Reconciliation.

MONDAWEN: What the people would like them to see is to recognize the fact that West Papua has its unique history and the integration process is not done on the democratic way.

SULLIVAN: Willie Mondawen and others say they're pessimistic about any real change occurring here in the near future. Mondawen says the new, democratically elected government of President Abdurrahman Wahid has sent several emissaries to Irian Jaya in recent months to hear the Papuans' complaints. They listen, he says, they say the right things, then they go back and nothing happens. Activist John Grumbiach says he'll be convinced Jakarta is serious about resolving the problem here if President Wahid comes to Irian Jaya, listens, and then with the people comes up with a solution. President Wahid says he plans a trip to Irian Jaya before the end of the year. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

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

 

STRONG EARTHQUAKE JOLTS IRIAN JAYA

JAKARTA, Indonesia (December 20, 1999 – Kabar Iran/AP) - A strong earthquake jolted Indonesia's easternmost province of Irian Jaya on Sunday, Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The agency said in a statement that the magnitude-6.1 tremor was centered 64 miles northwest of Jayapura, the provincial capital.

The quake was recorded at 2:44 a.m. local time and shook Jayapura as well as other major towns including Wamena, Sentani and Sarmi.

Irian Jaya comprises the western part of the island of New Guinea and is Indonesia's largest province.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes because of its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - a line of volcanically active areas stretching from Central America and the western coast of North America across to Japan, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

A magnitude-6 quake can cause severe damage if centered in an urban area.

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

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