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By R. K. Nugroho

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (December 19, 2001 - The Jakarta Post/TAPOL)---Just four days before President Megawati Suekarnoputri is due to sign over the much-awaited Autonomy Law to Papuan elders in the Irian Jaya provincial capital of Jayapura, students in the country's easternmost province are already intensifying their protests against the proposal.

More than 500 students from Jayapura-based, state-run University of Cenderawasih staged a rally in front of the Irian Jaya Legislative Council (DPRD) building on Tuesday, demanding an independence referendum in lieu of a special autonomy status for the province.

The students threatened to continue protesting at the heavily guarded DPRD building until the government agreed to accommodate their wishes.

Last week, hundreds of University of Cendrawasih students forcibly occupied the offices of Irian Jaya Governor Jaap Salossa. They urged the governor to reject the special autonomy offer, while calling for a thorough investigation into the suspected murder of independence leader Theys Hiyo Eluay and other human rights abuses in the province.

Jaap told last week's protesters that the special autonomy law had been drafted by important Papua figures, including academics and religious leaders, as a means of improving the welfare of the local population.

Megawati is scheduled to visit the tense province on Saturday to formally grant the Autonomy Law to Papuan elders, marking the beginning of the implementation of special autonomy status for the region on the far eastern end of the archipelago.

Under the Autonomy Law, which was endorsed by members of the House of Representatives (DPR) in October to appease Papuans seeking independence, the province's name will be changed from Irian Jaya to Papua, something that has been long-demanded by pro-independence leaders.

It will also be allowed to fly its own flag and have its own anthem.

Beyond that, the province will be able to keep up to 80 percent of earnings from natural resources, while receiving subsidies of Rp 6 trillion (US$ 600 million) annually from the central government.

The student protesters, however, argue that the proposed autonomy does not recognize the aspirations of all Papuans in Irian Jaya who would like the province to secede from Indonesia altogether.

They are also demanding that the legislative council address these desires by facilitating a referendum in which the province may determine whether its people want to stay with Jakarta, or break away.

Irian Jaya DPRD Deputy Speaker Ben Vincen Djeharu told the protesters that the council had already delivered similar aspirations to the central government, but had received no response so far.

In a related development, religious leaders in Irian Jaya again questioned the slow pace of the investigation into the mysterious death of Theys.

"The investigation into the case is dragging on, prompting mixed public reactions against the performance of law enforcement," they said in a statement issued to The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

"Our people's trust in the state and law enforcement authorities to reveal the truth has reached its lowest level," the statement read. The probe "does not satisfy the sense of justice for the public."

The statement was signed by prominent Christian and Muslim leaders, including Secretary of Indonesian Papuan Christian Church Rev. Corinus Berotabui; Jayapura Archbishop Mgr. Leo Labai Ladiar; Chairman of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) of Irian Jaya's chapter, Zubeir Hussein; and Dudung of the local branch of the Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama.

Theys, who headed the pro-independence Papua Council Presidium, was abducted on Nov. 10 by an unidentified group of people as he drove home from a military Heroes' Day celebration hosted by the local unit of Army's Special Force (Kopassus) in Jayapura.

His body, bearing signs of asphyxiation, was found in his car at the bottom of a ravine the following day. Theys' driver, who escaped long enough to report Theys’ abduction, also disappeared.

The Muslim and Christian leaders urged President Megawati to endorse an independent commission to probe the suspected murder.

"We ask the President to immediately handle Theys' case carefully, honestly and fairly," the statement said.

The government is currently considering a proposal by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) for a "National Independent Team" to investigate Theys' death. Under the proposal, officials from the government, the military and the police would be part of the team.

Irian Jaya fell under Indonesian control in 1963 after the territory's Dutch colonial administration, which had named it Dutch West New Guinea, abandoned it in 1961.

The United Nations recognized Indonesia's sovereignty over Irian Jaya in 1969 following a UN-held plebiscite, which pro-independence groups say was flawed.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email:  Internet: 

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