Papuan representatives demand independence

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Papuan representatives demand independence

By Linda Kaucher

One hundred West Papuan community representatives met with President Habibie, members of his cabinet and the head of Indonesian armed forces (ABRI) in West Papua, in Jakarta on February 26. At this historic dialogue, Amungme leader Tom Beanal read a statement, signed by all representatives, declaring that West Papuans want independence.

The agreed communiqué claimed that West Papuan people have been denied their identity as a people, and demanded that "immediate action be taken to transfer the administration to a transitory administration under the auspices of the UN".

Alternatively, "an International Dialogue must occur between the Indonesian Government, the West Papuan People and the United Nations". The communiqué called for action by the end of March and indicated that, without action, "the West Papuan people will boycott the Indonesian elections in June".

A speaker from the Central Highlands, having described atrocities committed by ABRI against his family, said that West Papuans "may face problems in the time ahead, but they would rather live and learn to overcome problems than live with Indonesians".

Hermanus Worjoy, a veteran of the Allied Forces Papuan Battalion, had been an advocate of integration with Indonesia. At the meeting, however, he asserted that when West Papua was liberated from Japanese occupation by the allied forces, it was placed directly under the rule of the Dutch central government, cutting its ties to the Dutch East Indies government. This denies the Indonesian claim that West Papua was part of the Dutch East Indies when the government of the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949.

All the representative speakers reiterated the call for independence. When three other men stood and declared that Irian Jaya is, and should remain, part of Indonesia, Tom Beanal immediately rose to deny that those people were part of the delegation of representatives.

President Habibie responded to the representatives by saying that they had expressed their honest opinions, and that though he had been advised against having the meeting because of the demands that were expected, he felt he should hear what the people had to say. He asked the assembly to be patient, and said that he also had to address his constituents in East Timor, Aceh and South Sulawesi.

No media were allowed into the meeting, but reports based on official press briefings said that while all participants had asked for full autonomy, only some had asked for separation from Indonesia.

The state secretary was quoted as saying that the meeting was not fully representative. However, he himself had been in charge of who would attend.