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By Catharine Munro

JAKARTA, Indonesia (July 16, 2002 - Joyo Indonesia News/AAP/Kabar-Irian)---The Indonesian government's first official count of the number of tribes in Papua province showed there were 312, not 250 as previously thought, an official said today.

According to figures from a census conducted in 2000, only 65 percent of the 2,233,530 population was indigenous.

"This is the first official survey," said Mansur Siradz, chief government statistician in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

"According to informal sources, the total tribes in Papua were thought to be around 250. But based on the census, the number is 312."

Papua, known until this year as Irian Jaya, is Indonesia's easternmost province. It shares the island of New Guinea with independent Papua New Guinea.

Most of its indigenous population had no contact with the outside world until the 1960s, and many tribes are isolated from each other by extremely high mountain ranges.

Anthropologist Jos Mansoben, from Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, dismissed the revised figure, saying it included groups too small to be a tribe.

The study counted nine tribes with fewer than 10 people, whereas tribes should include about 100 members, Dr. Mansoben said.

"We don't have a minimum number, but four people? I don't believe that," he said.

While the government census defined tribal groups according to the respondents' affiliation, it was better to define tribes according to language groups, Dr. Mansoben said.

The official study found that in the coastal town of Sorong, the population was dominated by people from other parts of Indonesia.

Just 28 per cent of residents there were indigenous.

During the 32-year regime of President Suharto, so-called transmigrants from Indonesia's more heavily populated islands were given opportunities to move to its remote provinces.

The policy often led to community unrest and violent clashes with indigenous populations, who were often unskilled.

The census study found Papuans made up only 32.75 percent of the paid workforce in Papua.

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