PAPUANS PUSH FOR FREEDOM

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JAYAPURA, Indonesia (June 2, 2000 - Jakarta Post/Kabar Irian)---Delegates to the ongoing Papuan Congress called for a declaration of independence on Thursday, defying Jakarta's stern warning that their action amounts to a violation of the constitution.

Although the Congress is not due to wind up until Saturday, it is clear that the meeting of some 3,000 people has turned into a show of force for supporters of an independent West Papua state outside the Indonesian republic.

West Papua is the name by which local people now call their territory.

Officially, the territory is still called Irian Jaya, the name used since its incorporation into Indonesia in 1963, although President Abdurrahman Wahid had approved the name change.

On Wednesday, officials in Jakarta issued harsh warnings to participants in the Congress against using the forum to drum up support for an independent state.

In separate comments, Cabinet Secretary Marsilam Simanjuntak and Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab reproached the Congress organizers for breaking their promise not to use the meeting to discuss the idea of a separate West Papua state.

Alwi went as far as saying that the government would do whatever was necessary to prevent the separation of Irian Jaya.

Marsilam said the claim by the congress to represent the West Papua people is questionable because those who support integration with Indonesia have been excluded.

"We consider the Papuan People's Congress a failure," he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

He also chided the gathering for including foreigners.

He said the organizing committee had earlier promised the government that the Congress was only for locals and that the focus would be on Irian Jaya remaining part of Indonesia.

Alwi said his office would seek an investigation of the presence of foreigners in the Congress.

"They have come under the names of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Most are from Papua New Guinea and Australia," Alwi told reporters.

"We will investigate first and if there are indications (of impropriety), we will take stern measures," he said.

The government will not hesitate to take all necessary action if the Congress goes beyond the limits agreed upon by the Congress committee, he said.

"If they declare independence, we are going to be very concerned because it is against the constitution," he said.

Responding to the warnings from Jakarta, Agus Alua, who chairs the Congress organizing committee, said on Thursday that the delegations were simply exercising their democratic right to express their aspirations.

"The aspirations of independence should be seen as freedom of expression in a democratic way," Agus argued.

Delegations from 13 regencies, youth, student and scholar organizations, tribal leaders and Papuan community living abroad, including Papua New Guinea, are taking part in the Congress.

Tom Beanal, the chairman of Papua Presidium, said many of the foreign participants were actually Papuans who lived abroad.

He said foreign participations in the congress were limited.

While delegates were unanimous in demanding independence, they were divided on how to achieve that goal. But delegates said this was in the spirit of democracy.

"The people have never been allowed to speak openly. Today, they begin enjoying democracy," Herman Awom, a member of Papuan Presidium Council, said.

"It is the first time the people of West Papua have been allowed to speak. All the people talk and it is good," John Mambor, another member of the Presidium Council, said.

Mambor, who spent seven years in prison and four years of exile in the jungle, heads a group representing former prisoners and political detainees at the Congress.

He demanded that the Congress draw up an independence statement.

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

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