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Papua 'troop deployment' worries locals

24 August 2005

A member of the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) has raised her concern over the alleged arrival of troops in the troubled province of Papua, saying that local people are feeling ill at ease.

Ferdinanda Ibo Yatipay, the DPD representative from Papua, said here on Tuesday that the soldiers arrived in Manokwari regency on Aug. 12 and that their number continued to grow.

"People feel intimidated by their presence. We know it as we have experienced it for years," she said, adding that she was certain of the deployment of troops aboard five ships arriving in Manokwari.

According to a local military official, Ferdinanda said, the soldiers were sent to secure the celebrations of Indonesia's Independence Day on Aug. 17 in Papua.

"But, why are they still there now? There is no war in Papua unlike Aceh. We fight for something peacefully," Ferdinanda said.

She said Papuans were feeling intimidated by the reported presence of the troops as they could be branded as separatists if they expressed their concern over human rights abuses in the resource-rich province.

The DPD member demanded that the Indonesian Military withdraw its troops from Papua, where rebels have been fighting for independence from the country.

"That's not the way it is. People must be invited for a dialog (to resolve the separatist problem in Papua)," she said.

However, Maj. G.T. Situmorang, spokesman of the Trikora Military Command overseeing security in Papua, denied the report on the recent deployment of soldiers to Papua.

"The information is not reliable," he said.

Meanwhile, Merauke Military Commander Col. Joy K. Sihotang said local residents and others in surrounding regencies had been living in peace and without fear.

"There are no activities threatening people here," he said.

Sihotang said the TNI's reinforcement personnel had been in Papua since early this year, adding that the number under his command was only 400 soldiers, or only 40 percent of one military battalion.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto recently announced the establishment of a new division of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) in Papua this year.

The new Kostrad division would be based in Sorong. The military said the location was chosen to facilitate its ability to deploy or mobilize troops in Papua at short notice.

The TNI will also set up a number of district military commands (Kodim) in several new regencies across Papua.

The new commands would result in a 50 percent increase in the number of troops stationed in Papua, from the current 30,000.

Papua has been embroiled in a new conflict over the issuance of a law that split Papua into three provinces - Papua, West Irian Jaya and Central Irian Jaya.

The Papuan administration and many local people rejected the partition of the province, saying it had to be approved by the Papua People's Assembly (MRP), which was not yet inaugurated.

The central government took away the political role of the MRP when it issued a regulation on the assembly.

Recently, thousands of Papuans staged a rally in Jayapura to express their dissatisfaction over the implementation of the special autonomy law for Papua, which they said was inconsistent.

The protest came just days after U.S. Congress passed a bill calling for unfettered access to investigate how Jakarta gained control of Papua and highlighted human rights abuses in the province.

Nethy Dharma Somba and Muninggar Sri Saraswati

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