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JAKARTA, Indonesia (February 19, 2001 – Laksamana.Net/Kabar-Irian)---Representatives of Indonesia's eastern-most province of West Papua (Irian Jaya) met today with members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). The representatives roundly criticized the central government's attitude and actions in their province and asked the MPR to urge the government to priorities the resolution of the problems the province is currently facing.

Around 15 representatives from various government and non-government organizations, mainly from the regency of Merauke, met the MPR members at the Nusantara V building at the parliament complex Monday.

"We hope the MPR can give voice to the aspirations of the people of Papua in pressuring the government to pay more attention to the situation in Papua," said Regent of Merauke Dr. John Gluba Gebze.

Head of the Papuan People's Traditional Law Institute (Lembaga Adat Masyarakat Papua), Thomas Mbuyu Timbe, said past visits to the capital had failed to change the government's approach to Papua. "The people keep asking if the House of Representatives still exists," he said.

The MPR members were all 'regional representatives' who are appointed to the country's highest legislative body based on the proportion of votes won by their respective parties. They are not members of the House, which is currently in session.

Head of the MPR faction, Oesman Sapta, greeted the Papuan representatives. He was accompanied by Alex Hasegam and Hatta Mustofa. Besides the Regent of Merauke, the Papuan delegation included the head of the Merauke legislative council Piep, chief of the Merauke police and chief of the military stationed in Merauke.

Among the delegates was also William Onde, Commander of the armed wing of the Free Papua Organization (OPM).

The OPM Freedom Fighters took 12 employees of PT Tunas Korindo - a Korean forestry company active in Merauke - hostage on January 16 and another four negotiators sent by the company were taken later. On January 28, the rebels set free 13 unharmed and the last three hostages were released also unharmed on February 8.

Their demands included the removal of all police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) personnel from the province, US$ 1 million in compensation for the damage caused to forests logged in the territory, as well as payment by the company of money owed by the group to a bar in Merauke amounting to Rp 2.4 million (US$ 250). They also demanded the company cease all environmentally damaging activities and that the central government pay heed to the aspirations of the people of Irian Jaya.

In the meeting on Monday, the Regent of Merauke said the incident was a manifestation of the Papuan people's frustrations because the central government appeared to be only concerned with exploiting the province's immense natural resources without sharing the rewards with the Papuan community.

"That incident represents the face of the people's social protest," he said adding that the hostage incident could not be blamed on William Onde alone. "It is the responsibility of the people of Papua," he said.

Onde not only criticized the central government's attitude and activities in Papua, which lead to incidents such as the hostage taking, but continued to argue that the Papuan people had a right to independence. "What is the status of West Papua? According to the 1945 constitution, independence is the right of all nations. We want to get that right," he said. The movement for independence, he added, had grown because the central government had never paid proper attention to the interests of the Papuan people.

As may be expected, delegates from institutions of the Indonesian government did not push the independence argument but continued to stress that the resolution of the conflict largely depended on the central government. "We also guarantee that there will be security in economic terms. Because Merauke is very safe for investors wanting to invest their capital," said Merauke Regent Dr. John Gluba Gebze.

After the meeting, Oesman of the MPR delegation said they would take up the issue with the House of Representatives and speak to President Abdurrahman Wahid. He felt sure, he said, that the people of Merauke could find the 'middle road' or the meeting point with the central government in resolving the problems faced by the province.

Separatists have been fighting for independence in Irian Jaya since Indonesia took over the former Dutch colony in 1963. The province takes up the western half of New Guinea Island.

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