JAKARTA, Indonesia (PINA, Jan. 5) - Indonesia's controversial transmigration policy, which has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims to Papua, a mainly Christian province, is to be revised.

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea said regions like Papua will now decide what they need and when instead of the Jakarta government, the Jakarta Post reported.

"The system we’re developing is one where we ask the regions first whether they need migrants or not. We no longer decide," Jacob told reporters on the sidelines of a public discussion on transmigration held in Jakarta.

Participants in the discussion blamed the mass migration of mainly Javanese Muslims to predominately Christian provinces, such as Papua, for religious tensions, the Jakarta Post said.

Jacob said that among the problems arising from regional autonomy was the refusal by several regions, such as Papua, to now accept migrants.

Responding to such rejections, he plans to allow locals to gain ownership of some of the land allotted for the migrants, the Jakarta Post reported.

"If need be, we'll grant 60 percent (of the land) to the Papuans and the other 40 percent to the newcomers," he said.

The government would also mix the ethnic groups of migrants coming to one area, he said.

Likewise, he said, the government would ask the regions with an oversupply of workers how they could help meet other regions’ needs. "We’ll be acting as a facilitator," he said.

He added the government had raised its transmigration budget to more than Rp 600 billion (about US$67 million) in 2002 from Rp 520 million in 2001.

Under Indonesia's new democratic government, following the fall of the Soeharto regime, Papua has been granted much greater autonomy. This includes changing the name from Irian Jaya to Papua, a bigger slice of revenue from its resources, and more local control.

Restive Papua, a resource-rich former Dutch colony, was taken over in the 1960s by Indonesia, also a former Dutch colony.

Papua has a population of more than two million. Official figures say there are about 350,000 migrants and transmigrants born in other parts of Indonesia. Pro-independence Papuans say there are more than 800,000.

Indonesia's population spread is uneven. Statistics in 2000 showed that some 59 percent of Indonesia's more than 210 million people live in Java, the Jakarta Post said.

Maluku and Papua, in the country's east, account for one-fourth of the country's total area, but only 2% of the population, the figures showed.

Speakers at the discussion said the decentralied economy had widened opportunities for the migration of skilled workers, the Jakarta Post reported.

"It's a matter of supply and demand. This will make migration flow naturally," said economist Didik Rachbini of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance.

He said skilled workers were in demand in regions that experience a surge in economic activities.

Since the transmigration program was introduced in 1970s, some 2.2 million families have moved and cultivated new lands in remote areas across the archipelago, the Jakarta Post said.

But a representative of the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, Watik Pratigna, said under the Soeharto regime, transmigration was used to strengthen his rule.

"Politics and security were the drivers behind Soeharto's transmigration program," he said.

For decades Jakarta had been deciding the flow of migrants, often without concern for the interests of the host regions, the Jakarta Post said.

January 6, 2003

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