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JAYAPURA, Indonesia (January 3, 2000 – Joyo Indonesian News/Kabar Irian)---Indonesia began the new year by ending the 30-year existence of its easternmost province, Irian Jaya.

In its place is the new province of Papua, a name change which provides the latest example of the high-risk appeasement policies practiced by Jakarta towards its restive outlying areas.

At the same time, President Abdurrahman Wahid declared his readiness to hold talks with the Free Papua Organization (OPM), apologized for human rights abuses and squashed any prospect of Papuan independence.

Mr. Wahid chose to experience the millennium's first sunrise in the province, which shares a land border with Papua New Guinea, where he delivered what is becoming his standard package of carrot and stick.

"We want to build a new Papua, just like you want to build a new Indonesia," tribal leader Ondofolo Theys Eluay told Mr. Wahid, claiming independence was the aspiration of the entire population of Papua.

Mr. Wahid replied that such moves would lead to confrontation.

"That isn't what I want, it's what you want," he said, adding that it was his presidential duty to uphold Indonesia's territorial integrity as laid down in the 1945 constitution.

"I guarantee freedom of expression. So I accept the Irianese demand for independence as a freedom of expression. But I won't tolerate any efforts to establish a country within the country.

"The Government of Indonesia will not hesitate to confront any country which is behind the Free Papua Movement or any other separatist groups in other regions.

"The Government is even ready to talk with the OPM, despite the fact that its members have many times committed unlawful acts."

The stakes are high in this, one of the top three rebellious provinces in Indonesia (along with Aceh and the Maluccas), which is rich in gold, copper, oil, gas and other natural resources.

On December 1, a long- running pattern of independence flag raising was intensified, with well-attended ceremonies across the then Irian Jaya.

Independence leader Mr. Eluay, who led the hoisting of the Morning Star flag, said that 90 percent of the population supported the restoration of sovereignty.

"We West Papuans have been living under threat from the Government's political, economic and social policies for 36 years," he said. "This has involved systematic violence and killing for the Melanesian people."

Irian Jaya declared an independent state while the territory was still under Dutch occupation on December 1, 1961.

But Indonesia claimed Dutch New Guinea as its 26th province and renamed it Irian Jaya in 1963 - a move recognized by the United Nations in 1969.

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