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By Ridwan Max Sijabat Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia (November 8, 2001 – The Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)--The recently endorsed law on special autonomy for Papua suggests a real social contract between its people and the government. The pact dictates the transfer of the bulk of authority in numerous fields by the government to the people.

The endorsement reinforces confessions by the central government and the House of Representatives, that their past policy on the country's easternmost province had been wrong. It also gave a concession for Papuans to run an autonomous administration, to be to catch up with other provinces in almost all fields.

Following a three-month deliberation, the government and the House eventually met the people's demands for special authority in the social, cultural, political and economic fields in running their autonomous government.

The new law rules that the province, which has recently had its name officially changed from Irian Jaya, has special autonomy in the social, political, economic and cultural fields, except for defense, foreign policy, monetary affairs and the courts.

Despite the national tributes, the province is allowed to have its own flag, symbol and anthem representing its own cultural identity and it will have a bicameral council. The council comprises the Papua People's Assembly (MRP) and Papuan Provincial Legislative Council (DPRP), and is authorized to make bylaws and policies, and to control the executive.

The Papuan assembly of tribes, religious communities, women and nongovernmental organizations, will create a constitution to guarantee the political and cultural rights of indigenous people. It will set up a truth and reconciliation commission to explore the painful history of integration with Indonesia. The commission will be authorized to carry out a thorough and fair investigation into past human rights abuses in the province.

In the handling of security, both the local military and police are subordinated to the governor. In the hopes to address a major grievance, 70 percent of the government's revenue from oil and gas mining now goes to Papua.

However, special autonomy has not won much support from those claiming to represent the Papuans. They question, are problems over with the endorsement of the law? Numerous groups, especially the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council, the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and students, have rejected special autonomy while many others are still skeptical of the government's goodwill in enforcing the law.

So what do the Papuan people really need?

Symbolizing their pride, self-respect and existence, Papuans say they cannot do much with unfamiliar constitutional terminologies. They need real changes and dialog to seek a comprehensive solution to prolonged problems, as well as to gain honest recognition of their cultural and ethnic identity.

Papua, with earlier names ranging from Ilhas dos Papuas, Nederlandse Nieuw Guinea, New Guinea, West Papua and Irian Barat (West Irian), has been claimed as an integral part of the Indonesian unitary state. But Papuans say that the two million plus people living on the 425,000 square kilometer (170,000 square mile) island have experienced more hardship than progress since their integration into Indonesia in 1963.

Many pro-Jakarta groups doubt that special autonomy can overcome their problems. Others, including those supporting OPM, say Papuans must be allowed to hold a self-determination referendum.

This is what many in Jakarta feared following East Timor's separation and calls for independence in the other restive province of Aceh, where the government has also mismanaged a prolonged, complicated conflict.

Papuans, known for their generosity and honesty, have been disappointed over the government's failure to meet its promises during their 38-year history under Indonesia. They have lost trust in Jakarta because of its continued discrimination.

Following the controversial referendum held in Irian in 1963, former President Sukarno gave special autonomy to the province -- which was never implemented. Instead, revenues from natural resources, especially oil, gas, copper and gold deposits, did not reach the people, who have said they remain left behind and in poverty compared to other provinces.

Those who fought against prolonged injustice faced guns, especially under former president Suharto's military-style regime for 32 years. The National Commission of Human Rights says human rights abuses in Papua that have claimed thousands of lives remain unresolved.

Until the end of the New Order in 1997 two million out of a population of 2.4 million were still living under the poverty line in areas with no access to public services. The infant mortality rate has remained high at 79 per 1,000 births.

The latest data at the provincial administration shows that 50 percent of Papuans are without education or were elementary school dropouts, only 24 percent are elementary school graduates, 10 percent are from high school and only two percent are university graduates. Only three percent of the indigenous people have been employed in the local bureaucracy and private companies, including the American copper and gold mining company PT Freeport McMoran Indonesia.

Another source of deep resentment towards the government is its ignorance of tribal land ownership. While concessions for forest areas have been given to some private companies, land disputes remain unresolved. Among disputes involving the government are those with Hanoch Hebe Ohee in Sorong, the Moy tribe, also in Sorong, with the Arfak tribe in Manokwari and with the Amungme and Komoro tribes in Mimika.

Of the 250 tribes in the province, 25 have yet to make contact with modern technology.

With such complicated problems, the provincial Papuan government will be unable to implement all aspects of special autonomy simultaneously. It will have to set priorities.

One would be to intensify education and to develop transportation, particularly in isolated areas. The Papuan administration's recent decision to spend Rp 1.8 trillion on schools and training centers in 2002 is laudable.

Papuans do not only need an autonomous or federal-like administration. They insist on the restoration of their dignity.

They have not only been aware of discriminatory treatment toward them, and are mainly looking toward the potential cultural and ethnic recognition brought about by the new law.

Governor Jaap Salossa once said that Jakarta had so far looked down on Papuans because they were "black, poor and primitive." The reform movement has brought increased enlightenment among Papuans to fight for equality, fraternity and progress, while clearly expressing that they no longer tolerate discrimination, not unlike the blacks in the United States, the Aborigines in Australia and the Maori in New Zealand.

More importantly, both the government and the Papuans must be on the alert for possible infringements of the new pact. The people should monitor the possible introduction of government regulations deviating from the law. Meanwhile, if Jakarta is committed to address the people's grievances it should also ensure that special autonomy is not manipulated to develop a new momentum for the province' separation from Indonesia.

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