SPECIAL AUTONOMY FOR PAPUA UNLIKELY TO HEAL WOUNDS

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By Christine T. Tjandraningsih

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (December 21, 2001 – Kyodo/Joyo Indonesian News/TAPOL)---Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is to deliver a special autonomy law Saturday that will give a much larger share of revenue from natural resources and taxes to people in the country's easternmost province Papua.

[Editor Note: President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s visit has been postponed. Autonomy for Irian Jaya province, which was to have taken effect Saturday, has been postponed until after Christmas, an official said.]

The law, which will give more power to the local government, aims to stem separatism in the troubled region.

But whether the new law will close the deep rift between Papuans, who say Jakarta stole their cultural, political and economic rights, and the government in Jakarta remains an open question.

Gov. Jaap Salossa said he thinks the majority support autonomy.

''The majority of people here want reforms in many things, but the reforms can only happen when there is a new policy, like this special autonomy law,'' Salossa told Kyodo News. ''I believe the majority who want reform will support this law because it aims to improve the people's welfare.''

Under the new law, effective from next year, Papua will get 90% of building, construction and land taxes and 20% of income tax.

For natural resources exploitation, the province will get an 80% tax share in forestry, fishery, general mining and oil exploration and a 70% share from natural gas. The revenue-sharing provision is to run for 25 years.

The legislation will also give Papua 2% of the state's health and education budget for 20 years.

Based on the new scheme, Papua will get about 6 trillion rupiah (about $600 million) in 2002, up from 3.5 trillion rupiah this year.

Salossa added that to finance special autonomy, a special fund of 1.3 trillion rupiah will also be allocated for Papua next year.

Under autonomy, Papuans will be allowed to choose their own provincial flag, anthem and symbol and set up a Papuan People's Assembly to represent traditional, religious and women's circles.

It also calls for the establishment for a truth and reconciliation committee to ''clarify history.''

But many Papuans remain dissatisfied.

''We have sent a letter to the central government rejecting the special autonomy law,'' Agus Alua, deputy secretary general of the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council, told Kyodo News. ''We can't accept the law because it was made without being discussed with local people in Papua. It was one-sided -- a kind of force.''

Alua claimed the majority of Papuans want a ''sovereignty flag,'' not a cultural symbol.''

Diaz Gwijangge, 27, a student at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, called the law a ''political maneuver'' by Jakarta to put more pressure on Papuans.

''As long as there has been no dialog, I will never accept the law. It's a forced political format,'' Gwijangge said.

The student leader, who plans a rally for Megawati's visit, said: ''Megawati can come anytime, but we are bored with her apologies and her tears when talking about Papua and Aceh.''

''Papuans need not apologies and tears but a clear commitment to solve all the problems,'' he said.

Protests opposing autonomy have intensified in Jayapura over the past week, with the marchers demanding a referendum on independence.

John Rumbiyak, a supervisor at Jayapura's Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, said criticism of the new law has arisen because the government failed to address a number of fundamental issues, including a response on a referendum.

''In the eyes of Papuans, Jakarta is introducing a kind of new colonialism in Papua in the name of development activities,'' Rumbiyak said. ''They are taking over the land of the people and their resources, degrading their environment and, on top of that, the people have lost their ability to be Papuan in their own land.''

He said Papuan church leaders, political activists, nongovernmental organizations and academics have been trying to get a dialogue before the new law is applied.

''But this kind of proposal is prevented by the political elite in Jakarta,'' Rumbiyak said. ''(Megawati) has outlined policies that make a way for security forces to easily do whatever they want here. She got a lot of support from the military when taking over the leadership. Now, she has to give concessions to the security forces at the high cost of a lot of lives in Papua.''

Rumbiyak also warned the frustration and distress in Papua, which reached its peak with the killing of pro-independence leader Theys Eluay last month, could lead to all kinds of violence if Megawati refuses to listen to the voices of Papuans.

Eluay's murder remains unsolved and speculation continues that he might have been killed by the military.

But beyond the elites in Jakarta and in Jayapura, some ordinary people have a different outlook.

''I don't care if there is an autonomy law or not. I just want peace and that my family can eat everyday,'' said Hugo Ayomi, 27.

Yohanna Rumbewas, 43, a fruit seller, said: ''Will the autonomy law make our life better? If yes, it's good. If no, it's not good. Most important to me is that my family can survive, my children can go to school and people buy my (fruit).''

Martin Rembe, 31, a parking lot attendant, added: ''I just hope whatever policies are taken, it can make my life better.''

Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, has seen thousands die in violence between separatists and security forces for the past 30 years.

All want it to end.

The Indonesia government took over the western half of New Guinea from the Netherlands in 1963 and absorbed the territory after what many saw was a flawed U.N.-organized plebiscite in 1969.

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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