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Government 'to get tough with Papuans' JAKARTA - President Abdurrahman Wahid and Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Widodo A.S. have pledged to take stern measures against the Irianese for declaring independence, House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung said on Sunday. Speaking during a visit to Pangkalpinang, South Sumatra, Akbar said the House would support every means sought by the government to maintain the state's unity, Antara reported.

"I have phoned Gus Dur and asked him not to hesitate in taking strict action to keep the country's territorial integrity," Akbar said referring to Abdurrahman's popular nickname. Akbar said the President as the head of state is mandated to uphold the 1945 Constitution and to defend the unitary state of Indonesia.

"If the independence demand remains a discourse, it's okay. But if it is followed by action, the TNI chief will take stern measures," Akbar said. Akbar said Abdurrahman had spoken to the American, Dutch, British and Australian ambassadors about the government's commitment to maintaining Indonesia's territorial unity.

Akbar blamed the government's failure to quickly address the growing disappointment among people in the easternmost province for the growing independence demand. Constitutional law expert from Bandung-based Padjadjaran University Sri Sumantri labeled the independence declaration a separatist movement. TNI is entitled to take action against it, he said.

"The integration of Irian into Indonesia in 1963 is acknowledged by the United Nations, so don't be afraid about the government not obtaining international support," he said. He quickly added that the secession mood had escalated due to Jakarta's exploitation of the province's natural resources without improving the social welfare of the Irianese people.

He said the government should take the independence demand in Irian Jaya as a costly lesson to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Politicians were unperturbed by the news from Jayapura, describing it as a mere political maneuver to gain greater government consideration over the province's fate.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post over the weekend, legislator Effendy Choiri of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and Burhan Djabir Magenda of the Golkar Party expressed guarded confidence that the concluded congress was a passing phenomenon that would not lead to actual separation. "This (the declaration) was a maneuver to gain more serious attention from the central government," Effendy said. He said the declaration did not represent the real wishes of the Papuan people, because, although they asked for freedom, they also asked the central government for various things. "They said they wanted freedom, but they also urged the central government to deal with problems in the region, in line with their demands," he remarked.

"I bet they are quite concerned about the reality that the international community would not recognize West Papua nor agree to the presence of an international contingent, which might infringe upon the territorial integrity of Indonesia," he said. Burhan said Irian Jaya shared no similarities with East Timor and its separatists were even less dangerous than those in Aceh. "The Papuan separatist movement is very small and we (Indonesia) have international support," he remarked.

"If we can handle the separatist movement in Aceh, this should be more easy to cope with, because, physically, they are not a threat." He said that the fact remained that the international community recognized the territory as an Indonesian province. Political observer and columnist Soedjati Jiwandono however said Papuans had a right to choose independence if they wished.

"Unity is something that you cannot force and everybody should have the right to determine what they want, including the right to be free," Soedjati said. He said ultimately unity should bring prosperity to the people, and thus it might be better if Indonesia split into three or four prosperous countries, rather than forcing a single unity that is not thriving and costing the people even more.

To solve these problems, the government should first establish a mechanism similar to a self-determination ballot and provide choices for the Papuans. "We should stop offering them regional autonomy, but give them a real choice to be free," he added.

Posted in Violence @ 05 June 2000 09:41 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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