Fri, Jul 09, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Papuans call for vote on self-determination

AFP , JAYAPURA, INDONESIA

Thousands of Papuans rallied yesterday to urge the provincial parliament to demand a referendum on self-determination and reject the region’s special autonomy within Indonesia.

An upper house of tribal leaders, the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), voted last month to reject Papua’s autonomous status, introduced in 2001 after the fall of the Suharto military dictatorship in Jakarta.

Witnesses said more than 2,000 Papuans in Jayapura, some of them wearing traditional outfits, marched about 17km from the MRP’s office to the provincial parliament building.

“Special autonomy has failed to protect the rights of indigenous Papuans,” protest leader Markus Haluk said.

“We want to urge Papua’s provincial parliament to hold a plenary meeting to declare that special autonomy is a failure and return it back to the central government,” he said.

Haluk said the Indonesian government and Papuans, who are indigenous Melanesians, needed to establish a dialogue in which the UN or a neutral country would act as mediator.

“It’s as if Papua is a dark cave, which is always closed and guarded by the government,” he said. ­“Papuan people want a referendum as a solution to our problem.”

The provincial parliament canceled a meeting that was supposed to be held yesterday over the request for a referendum.

“This is a political issue and we’re still waiting for other political groups in the parliament to make their decision,” Golkar party lawmaker Yan Ayomi said.

Papua has been the scene of a low-level insurgency for decades and despite Indonesia’s vast security presence in the region, Jakarta remains extremely sensitive about any sign of separatism.

Indonesia has sent mixed messages about its willingness to loosen its grip on Papua, offering talks with separatist rebels on one hand while jailing and killing their leaders on the other.

Access to foreign journalists in the area has been restricted by the government.

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