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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 12:43 GMT
Behind Irian Jaya's name change
By regional analyst Nicholas Nugent

The Indonesian province of Irian Jaya has been given a set of unprecedented autonomy measures, which officially came into effect on 1 January 2002.

Under the measures, the province takes much greater control of its own affairs, excluding only defence, foreign affairs, monetary affairs, the police and the courts.

Papua facts
Indonesia's largest province
Population 2.4m
Most people below poverty level
High infant mortality rate
Jakarta has bowed to demands that the province's name be changed to the locally-preferred Papua, and for the provincial flag to fly alongside, though lower than, the Indonesian national flag.

The key concession, as far as Jakarta is concerned, is that the Papuan provincial government will be allowed to retain 70% of revenue from oil and gas production and 80% from other mineral and forestry activity.

Given the province's enormous mineral and forestry reserves, this concession will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

More demands

Most lucrative will be the revenue flowing from the Louisiana-controlled mining company, PT Freeport McMoran, whose Grasberg mine contains as much as one-10th of the world's copper reserves as well as considerable quantities of gold and silver.

A West Papuan pro-independence activist in traditional dress, pictured November 2001
Papuans will get more revenues from the region's resources
Local police and armed forces will henceforth report to the province governor as well as to Jakarta.

A two-chamber council, which will control the provincial executive, will represent the interests and rights of the 250 tribal groups that make up the province.

Single-chamber assemblies in Indonesia's other provinces have much more limited powers, as do provincial governors.

But many Papuans have rejected the package. The long-established Free Papua Movement (OPM) want nothing less than a referendum for independence, along the lines of that held in East Timor in 1999, when the people voted overwhelmingly to secede from Indonesia.

Impoverished region

Fearing that the people of Papua would follow the Timorese precedent if they were given the chance, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has ruled out an independence referendum for the province.

She hopes her autonomy package will placate Papuans who feel they have had a raw deal from Jakarta.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri
President Megawati hopes to appease the Papuans
Her father, Indonesia's first president Sukarno, first promised autonomy nearly 40 years ago after gaining control of West Irian from the Dutch. But it has taken till now for it to be implemented.

In the meantime, the central government has benefited from the province's resource wealth to the tune of billions of dollars - yet Papua remains overwhelmingly the poorest and most backward Indonesian province.

Statistics on road building disguise the fact that roads were constructed to improve access to the Grasberg mine and have not much benefited the province's scattered communities.

Fewer than 25% of Papuans rose beyond elementary level schooling and health indicators are similarly poor. Most Papuans live below the poverty level and infant mortality is a high 79 per 1000 live births.

Mysterious death

Megawati's chances of 'selling' the autonomy package to the Papuan people suffered a setback when the leader of the self-styled Papuan Presidium Council (PDP), Theys Eluay, was found dead in mysterious circumstances in November 2001 - just three weeks after the Council voted to reject the package.

Preliminary findings suggested the separatist leader, who was found dead in his car at the side of the road after dining with military officers, had been suffocated. No further explanation or culprit had been found by January, and Papuans have made clear they are not satisfied with the government's investigation.

The PDP have taken a less militantly pro-independence position than the OPM, insisting on dialogue with the government, saying that even the autonomy package was being imposed rather than being the result of a negotiation.

They say they want security rather than autonomy and a restoration of the dignity of the Papuan people.

For years, Indonesian politicians and bureaucrats have looked down on the people of the province whom they frequently suggested had barely emerged from the Stone Age.

Megawati's Papua problem could be as difficult to resolve as other regional rebellions - notably that in Aceh.

As in Aceh, alienation has been exacerbated by strong-arm tactics employed by the Indonesian armed forces.

An added complication is that up to a third of inhabitants of the province are immigrants from Java and other parts of the archipelago who may have a rather different attitude towards government efforts to appease the indigenous majority.

Papua's 2.4 million people represent only one-100th of the Indonesian population, but in land area it is easily the largest and one of the most resource rich.

Its people, the poorest and most backward of Indonesians, could yet present Megawati, just five months into her presidency, with her biggest headache.

See also:

02 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Confusion over Irian Jaya name
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya to get more autonomy
03 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya rebels still threaten town
16 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati sorry for rights abuses
16 Aug 01 | Business
Megawati says 'no' to kickbacks
17 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Soldiers respond to Aceh violence
04 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya declared independent
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