MEGAWATI MAY GO TO WEST PAPUA TO HAND OVER NEW POWERS

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (November 2, 2001 - Papua New Guinea Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---President Megawati Sukarnoputri may visit Irian Jaya next month to officially implement a newly approved autonomy law, its governor, Jaap Solossa, said yesterday.

"I will send a letter to the president so that on December 22 (she) can come to hand over the law on the special autonomy for Papua as a Christmas and Eid-al-Fitr present for believers in Papua," Mr. Solossa said, according to the Antara news agency.

The Indonesian Parliament on October 22 passed the autonomy law in efforts to head off pressure for independence.

Under the law, the province will be officially renamed Papua when the legislation takes effect on December 22.

The law gives greater recognition to the special characteristics of the resource-rich and mainly Melanesian-populated province by allowing it to have its own flag and anthem.

It also returns up to 70 percent of revenues from natural resources to the province, while the rest will go to the central government.

The general 70:30 revenue-sharing ratio is the same as for the restive province of Aceh, which was granted wider autonomy earlier this year in hopes of quelling a separatist revolt there.

Apart from the greater share of revenues, Papua will also receive an annual six trillion rupiah (A$ 1.2 billion/US$ 610,680,000) from the central government.

The bill also provides for a Papua People’s Council, which will protect the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the territory, on the western half of New Guinea Island.

The council will provide input for the election of the province’s governor and its representatives will be placed in Indonesian embassies abroad to promote the territory.

Pro-independence campaigners have already rejected the special autonomy law, saying the people want independence.

Moves for independence have been mounting in West Papua.

Human rights activists accuse Indonesian security forces of human rights abuses and say thousands of people have died in years of fighting.

The resource-rich territory was a Dutch colony. But in the 1960s the Indonesians, who had won their own independence from Dutch colonial rule, began fighting to take control of West Papua from the Dutch.

The province was officially taken over by the Indonesians following a controversial 1969 referendum after the departure of the Dutch. Pro-independence West Papuans call the referendum a sham and say only a small number of men who were intimidated by the Indonesians were allowed to take part.

Indonesia has since encouraged migration to West Papua by mainly Muslim settlers from its main islands. Indigenous West Papuans are mainly Melanesian and Christian.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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