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JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 8, 2000 - Indonesian Observer/Kabar Irian)---The government yesterday softened its stance on last week’s independence declaration by tribal leaders and separatists in West Papua (Irian Jaya), saying it does not categorize the announcement as an act of treason.

Cabinet Secretary Marsillam Simanjuntak told reporters the government will try to use a persuasive approach in dealing with the separatist movement, rather than resorting to violence.

He said President Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, still tolerates the separatists’ peaceful activities, including the raising of the West Papua Morning Star flag.

"Gus Dur tolerates such action because political parties can hoist their own flags. But if they pull down red-and-white [Indonesian] flag and hoist their Morning Star flag, we can describe that as treason," Marsillam said after attending a cabinet meeting.

Last Sunday, the Papuan Peoples Congress of about 3,000 pro-independence delegates unanimously urged the outside world to recognize West Papua as a sovereign state.

Initially, the government flatly rejected the declaration, urged foreign nations to do the same and warned that firm action would be taken to maintain order and safeguard Indonesia’s territorial integrity.

But Marsillam said the government wants to avoid violence. He described the independence claim as expressing an aspiration rather than developing into physical action and violence.

He said the governments approach was aimed at preventing the situation from escalating at the risk of causing human rights violations and prompting foreign interference.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono yesterday admitted the government had provided organizers of the congress with Rp3 billion (US$ 355,000).

He could not explain from where the government had obtained the money, but said it was probably from various sources, including foreign aid.

Previously, Wahid had said the government allocated only Rp1 billion for the congress.

The government donated the fund in response to the aspirations of about 300 tribes and tribal branches in Papua, said Juwono, the nation’s first civilian defense minister.

He said Wahid has instructed military and government officials not to overreact in response to the independence declaration.

Wahid has also ordered Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) Commander Admiral Widodo Adisutjipto and the National Police Chief General Rusdihardjo to provide adequate protection to migrants living in West Papua.

Some legislators and social groups have been urging the government to react in a heavy-handed approach to the independence declaration, calling for more troops to be sent to the province, and to arrest the organizers of the congress.

TNI Territorial Affairs Chief Lieutenant General Agus Wijoyo said the military will only follow orders from the government, although it will do its utmost to prevent national disintegration.

We will act on the basis of the political decisions made by the government, because it [the congress] was a political activity, he said.

Agus declined to give his opinion on the outcome of the congress. "TNI will not make an assessment, but we will take national integrity as the highest consideration."

Indonesia occupied West Papua, which occupies the western half of New Guinea, in 1963. Its sovereignty over the half-island was formalized six years later by the United Nations through a vote by indigenous community leaders.

Independence activists claim that process of self-determination was a sham and that West Papua was never legally integrated into Indonesia.



JAKARTA, Indonesia (June 8, 2000 – Jakarta Post)---The government has softened its stance by making a symbolic gesture to growing independence demands in Irian Jaya and allowing the separatist Morning Star flag to be hoisted together with, but smaller than, the national red and white Indonesian colors. "As long as the size is not bigger than the national flag, and it is raised together with our national flag and its height is not higher than the national flag," Cabinet Secretary Marsilam Simanjuntak told journalists after a weekly Cabinet meeting at the Bina Graha presidential office on Wednesday.

Marsilam said it was part of President Abdurrahman Wahid's moderate and tolerant approach in responding to the independence declaration by the Papuan People's Congress.

"However, if they hoist the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag and then lower down the national flag, that's treason," he stressed.

But separately House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung regretted the decision to allow the separatist flag to be hoisted.

"We regret it. Hoisting the flag (except the Red-and-White flag) violates the law," Akbar told reporters on Wednesday.

House of Representatives leaders on Wednesday also officially stated their firm rejection of the results of the Papuan People's Congress which declared its desire to separate from Indonesia.

A House statement was signed by Akbar, and his four deputy speakers -- Muhaimin Iskandar, A.M. Fatwa, Tosari Widjaja and Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno.

"The result (of the congress) is separatism and it violates the law and it could be categorized as "treason," Akbar said in the statement.

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