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Ten thousand Papuans criticize special autonomy implementation

13 August 2005

At least 10,000 Papuans stormed into the office of the Papua provincial legislative council in Jayapura on Friday, demanding the government to review its Special Autonomy Law.

The protesters, in one of the largest such demonstrations ever in the province, claimed that the special autonomy was a total failure as it had failed to live up to people's expectations in Papua.

The protesters started at Trikora Field in Abepura in the morning, and from there, they marched to the legislative compound. Due to fears of clashes, many schools, offices and shops were closed as the protesters made their way through Jayapura city, some 25 kilometers from the Trikora Field. Other shops and residents along the way prepared food and water for the protesters, who also were demanding justice.

The demonstrators, some wearing traditional Papuan attire, carried a coffin covered with black cloth bearing Otsus (special autonomy), which meant that special autonomy had failed to improve the life of Papuans. Besides demanding the government to hold national and international dialogs to solve the Papuan problem, the demonstrators, led by the secretary of the Papuan Tribal Council, Leo Imbiri, also demanded the Papuan provincial council members convene a plenary session and formally reject special autonomy.

Responding to the demand, speaker of the Papuan provincial council Jhon Ibo argued that it was premature to say that the Special Autonomy Law was a failure as it was just a few years old and the implementation process was still ongoing. Ibo rejected the demand for a plenary meeting, but he promised that the provincial council would intensify dialogs with the Papuan Tribal Council in order to discuss the future of special autonomy.

Leo stated that special autonomy was the best way for Papua to improve, but he argued that parts of the implementation had not yet lived up to people's expectations. First, he said, the government was sluggish in issuing the Presidential Decree on the Papuan People's Council. It was finally launched three years after the Special Autonomy Law was issued in 2001, which brought disappointment to many Papuans. The Special Autonomy Law provided more authority for the provincial administration to manage its own affairs, while the central government retained some powers such as in the matters of security and international affairs. And second, Leo protested, the government approved the establishment of West Irian Jaya province, which effectively partitioned Papua province and violated the 2001 law. The original 2001 law states, however, that the establishment of a new province must be approved by the Papuan People's Council, while in fact, West Irian Jaya was set up before the MRP was founded. Protests against the Special Autonomy Law, were not only held in Jayapura but also in other areas in Papua, such as Sorong and Biak, although far fewer people took part.

The massive expression of disappointment comes just weeks after some members of the US Congress proposed a bill questioning the validity of the process leading to the 1969 Act of Free Choice in Papua, when a group of some 1,000 selected Papuan leaders voted unanimously to become part of the Republic of Indonesia.

Nethy Dharma Somba

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