PRESIDENT MEGAWATI'S ABORTED CHRISTMAS VISIT TO IRIAN JAYA DELAYS AUTONOMY

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JAYAPURA, Irian JAYA, Indonesia (December 22, 2001 AFP/Joyo Indonesian News/TAPOL)---Wide-ranging autonomy for Indonesia's troubled Irian Jaya province, which was to have taken effect Saturday, has been postponed until after Christmas, an official said.

The special autonomy laws for the remote province on the western half of New Guinea Island had been scheduled to take effect at a ceremony presided over Saturday by President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

But on Thursday Megawati postponed the pre-Christmas trip to the provincial capital, Jayapura. Her chief security minister cited concerns over political tensions, but a personal aide said a bout of influenza was to blame.

A member of the local government committee in charge of the autonomy ceremony told AFP that it had been cancelled for Saturday.

Provincial governor Jaap Salossa will instead travel to Jakarta around December 26 to accept the new autonomy powers from Megawati in a ceremony to be held in the national capital.

The new laws will then take effect from January 1, Salossa told journalists here.

The Indonesian government approved the special autonomy package to try to head off pressure for independence in the resource-rich area.

Under the package, Irian Jaya will be renamed Papua and have its own flag and anthem, and up to 80 percent of revenues from natural resources including gold, copper and gas will be returned to the province.

 

SCORNFUL PAPUANS UNIMPRESSED WITH MEGAWATI

By Achmad Sukarsono

JAYAPURA, Irian Jaya, Indonesia, Dec 21 (Reuters/Joyo Indonesia News/TAPOL)---The cancellation of a trip by Indonesia's president to the restive province of Papua drew largely scorn and indifference on Friday, with some local residents saying they doubted she wanted to hear their grievances anyway.

The barbs for Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has apologized to Papuans for past human rights abuses, underscore how tough it will be for her to reverse the deep anti-Jakarta sentiment in the resource-rich province of two million people.

The Jakarta Post newspaper quoted the chief security minister as saying the Saturday trip was cancelled because of tension following the murder, which remains unsolved, last month of top pro-independence chief Theys Eluay. Officials would only confirm the trip was off.

"Before Megawati comes to Papua, Jakarta should reveal who was the killer of Theys Eluay and what was the motive, not hide it," Frederik Marwa, an ageing tribal chief, told Reuters in the local capital Jayapura, 3,700 km (2,300 miles) east of Jakarta.

"If Megawati does come, then if it's not for the purpose of conducting an open dialogue, she should not come at all."

Megawati's visit would have mainly been to promote an autonomy package that transfers more power over the province's wealth to local leaders in an attempt to cool separatist passions.

The Papua Presidium Council that Eluay chaired, an umbrella organization for pro-independence groups, has rejected the package. Students have also been holding regular protests against the measures, which they say are too little, too late.

"For days Papuan people have been demonstrating, rejecting her visit because she wanted to come here not as a mother who will listen to the cries of her people but as a head of state who wants to impose something forcefully on Papuans," said Thaha Al Hamid, secretary general of the council.

However, the official Antara news agency quoted the Jakarta-appointed governor of Papua, Jaap P. Solossa, as saying only a minority were opposed to the package.

"There is a group of people and certain personalities rejecting special autonomy on behalf of the people, when they may have not even listened to popular views properly," he said.

Other residents found little good to say about the package.

Christmas Fears

Meanwhile, Jayapura appeared normal on Friday. There was no heavy security presence on the streets, businesses were open and public transport operated normally.

The government has said it would tighten security across the world's most populous Muslim nation to try to prevent a repeat of Christmas Eve bombings near churches last year that killed 19 people. Many Papuans are Christian.

Megawati, battling to end separatist and communal tension in parts of the vast multi-ethnic archipelago, has backed the setting up of an independent inquiry into Eluay's murder.

But as a staunch nationalist like her father, Indonesia's first president Sukarno, Megawati has ruled out independence for Papua, which for years has complained of human rights abuses by the military and interference from the central government.

Eluay was found dead in his overturned car after he had attended a dinner in Jayapura with the local special forces chief. The army as an institution has denied suggestions it was involved.

"It is good Megawati did not come. We are still mourning here and she doesn't care," said Harif Kori, a farmer.

Added Naftali Marani, a port laborer at Jayapura: "Coming to Papua would actually be good so Megawati could see for herself what is boiling in Papua and to hear that all Papuans reject special autonomy. But we do not regret she didn't come because she didn't want to have a dialogue anyway."

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email: plovers@gn.apc.org  Internet: www.gn.apc.org/tapol 

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