admin's picture

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (June 1, 2001 – Asia Pacific/Kabar-Irian)---Indonesia's embattled President, Abdurrahman Wahid, is getting support from an unusual quarter -- separatists in the province of West Papua, or Irian Jaya.

The independence movement there has been able to organize publicly under Mr. Wahid's leadership and there are fears of a possible return to the heavy handed military approach of the Suharto years should Megawati Sukarnoputri take over the reigns of government.

West Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay has been particularly close to the president, who has promised to pardon him if is he is convicted of the sedition charges he's currently facing.

Five West Papuan independence leaders are currently on trial for subversion, but Chief Theys Eluay's prosecution is by far the most controversial.

Given his close ties with Jakarta and his peaceful approach to West Papua's independence struggle, it's surprising Indonesian authorities decided to proceed at all with charges against him.

The sedition charges arose from his activities at an independence congress a year ago

Sedition charges 'hypocritical'

He describes the charges as hypocritical, as it was President Wahid himself who had partially funded and authorized the congress.

"The Indonesian government has allowed us to hold those meetings and express our views. What happened with the consultative meeting at the congress of the Papuan people was we simply exercised our rights, and as far as we're concerned we have done nothing wrong."

As the elected head of the West Papuan Presidium Council Chief Eluay has managed to keep the provinces' lowland and highland tribes united in their fight for independence.

But his leadership has not gone unquestioned within the movement.

Voted for Indonesian takeover

That's partially because he was one of 1,025 West Papuan chiefs who voted in a UN sponsored poll in 1969 to support the province's handover from Holland to Indonesia.

Chief Eluay says he and the other chiefs signed the so-called Act of Free Choice under severe duress.

"During those days, especially during the so-called Act of Free Choice, I myself for instance, I was taken from my home in the middle of the night without my wife and children knowing about it – why I was taken and where I was being taken to.

"When I arrived to where the others were being interned we were all drilled that the province of West Irian, which it was called at the time, belonged to the Republic of Indonesia, was an integral part of the Republic; we were not allowed to say anything else."

Golkar party member

Some independence supporters are also suspicious of Chief Eluay's past membership of former President Suharto's Golkar Party, the party-backed military crackdowns and killings in West Papua for over 30 years.

The Chief sat in West Papua's provincial parliament as a Golkar member when the OPM, the Free Papua Movement guerilla army, was battling Indonesian troops in the jungles.

Mr. Eluay says it was Suharto's downfall that allowed him to voice the independence views he's always supported.

"During those days it was extremely difficult for anyone to speak up for his or her rights. Once Suharto fell during the period of reformation we found we could do the sort of things that we were not able to do previously. That's when we decided to express our views and our wishes freely, to tell the government what we want for the Papuan people."

Breakaway movement will continue

Although Chief Eluay has not forged close links between the independence council and the OPM guerilla army, it's clear both sides will continue their fight to separate from Indonesia.

OPM military commander Mathias Wenda has just been released from jail in Papua New Guinea.

There he pleaded guilty to the charge of raising an illegal army to fight against Indonesia, but the court ordered his release.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment