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By Annastashya Emmanuelle

JAKARTA, Indonesia (March 22, 2002 – Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Special autonomy status for Papua will not achieve peace unless past human rights abuses are settled and dialog between the central government and local people takes place, a rights activist said.

John Rumbiak, chairman of the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM), said Papuans want a separate administration from Indonesia because of lingering militaristic repression in the region, formerly known as Irian Jaya.

Dialog with local people would help the government understand what lies beneath the calls for freedom, he told a seminar.

"We have repeatedly called for a dialog with the central government but never received a response. Instead, the military repression continues," John said.

The communication gap has created a mutual distrust and resulted in ineffective government policies.

Papuans want punishment for those responsible for arbitrary killings, detention and torture, but the perpetrators continued to roam free, he said.

John said the province was a killing field, with around 100,000 people slain since 1963.

"Now the security forces have also made accusations that Christian groups are merely hiding behind the veils of human rights while they are actually waging a separatist movement."

Muslims and Christians in Papua had lived together in harmony thus far, he said, but the presence of the militant Islamic group Laskar Jihad has threatened the balance in recent months.

Papuans also demand that Jakarta revoke its claim to sovereignty over the territory -- affirmed in a UN-sponsored plebiscite in 1969 but disputed by pro-independence advocates.

Prior to their departure in 1961, the former Dutch colonizers prepared Papua for independence, but in 1963 Indonesian troops moved in.

Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay was killed in November last year after leaving a military-hosted ceremony.

Deputy chief of the Papua Presidium Council Tom Beanal, another speaker in the discussion, expressed skepticism about the government team appointed by President Megawati Sukarnoputri to investigate the murder.

"I don't have high hopes on the team . . . especially when the law is being mixed with politics such as this," he told The Jakarta Post.

Freedom is the only solution for Papua, Beanal said.

Jakarta last year granted special autonomy, which allows the province to keep up to 80 percent of its revenues, change its name from Irian Jaya to Papua, and fly the provincial flag alongside the national flag.

Megawati last year apologized to Papuans for past human rights abuses but made clear the eastern province of two million people -- and its rich store of natural resources -- would never be free.

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