Special autonomy a failure: Papuans

Special autonomy a failure: Papuans

, 19 June 2010

Around 2,000 Papuans went on a 20-kilometer march Friday to demand the Papua Legislative Council overturn the province's special autonomy status.

The protesters held a peaceful rally, some clad in traditional attire, and marched from the Papua People's Assembly in Abepura to the council building in Jayapura.

They carried banners reading "Special autonomy has failed", "The 2001 Special Autonomy Law has failed" and "There is no solution but a free Papua".

Assembly Deputy Speaker Hana Hikoyabi, who was among the protesters, handed a letter to Council Deputy Speaker Yunus Wonda.

Assembly member Robby Aituarauw said the letter contained the demands raised during a two-day forum held by the Assembly and seven tribal regions in Papua from June 9 to 10.

The demands included that Jakarta and Papua should hold talks mediated by a third party, hold a referendum and demanded the central government recognize West Papua's sovereignty.

Other demands were calls to stop all regional elections in Papua, stop the government-run transmigration program and release all political prisoners both in Papua and West Papua provinces.

Robby said many Papuans were fed up with constantly being disappointed by the failure of the province's special autonomy to improve people's livelihoods.

"They are tired and desperate, so they came up with these demands."

He said there was no need to evaluate the special autonomy's implementation through studies since its shortcomings were clearly visible.

"Look at the villages and the conditions of homes. See whether people have been provided with healthcare and education. They have never benefited from these facilities, so they believe special autonomy has not been effective and should be revoked," Robby said.

The central government granted Papua special autonomy in 2001 in an effort critics call a measure to win the hearts and minds of Papuans while toning down demands for independence.

The special autonomy status and law allows Papua to keep up to 80 percent of revenue generated from the exploitation of its local resources and authorized its name change from Irian Jaya to Papua.

The law also rules the province has autonomy in the social, political, economic and cultural fields, except for defense, foreign policy, monetary affairs and the courts.

Papua is allowed to have its own flag, symbol and anthem representing its own cultural identity and has a bicameral legislature, comprising the Assembly and Council, which are authorized to issue bylaws, policies and control the executive.

The deputy head of the Council's Commission A, Weynand Watori, said the central government had not wholeheartedly granted Papua special autonomy.

"Special autonomy was given because Papuans demanded independence. After giving it to Papua, the government returned to its old position of decentralization, making the implementation of special autonomy a failure," he said.

"People have returned to their earlier demand for independence. If the trust is gone, it is very difficult to get back."

Another council member, Ruben Magai, said his commission would convey the demands to the central government after holding a plenary session. "After this, the ball is in the central government's court."