Independence supporters in Indonesia's eastern province of Irian Jaya on Saturday mark what they consider the territory's independence day. Separatists have been fighting with Indonesia for 40 years, and the turmoil continues, with the recent killing of a top independence leader.
Mourners weep at the funeral in mid-November of Theys Eluay an independence leader in Indonesia's eastern province of Irian Jaya. Mr. Eluay was the head of the Papua Presidium Council an umbrella group for a handful of organizations pushing for Irian Jaya's independence. His apparent murder in early November has heightened emotions in the already tense province.
That has been especially true in the run-up to December 1. On that date in 1961, the Dutch colonizers left Irian Jaya, but soon after that Indonesia stepped in. Separatists use the date to mark what they say is Irian Jaya's birth as a state. John Rumbiak is with Elsham the Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights, based in Irian Jaya's capital Jayapura. Mr. Rumbiak worried that the anger surrounding Mr. Eluay's death may be manipulated by the Indonesian military into sparking anti-government demonstrations. That way, troops could say they were justified in using force against independence supporters.
"Our concern is if the people of West Papua are not sensitive to their surroundings, since there is a lot of provocation going on here. This kind of celebration or anniversary of the first of December also can be exploited by those who want to maintain the status quo, to create violence here, or conflict," Mr. Rumbiak explained.
On his last day alive, Mr. Eluay had dinner with Indonesian military officers. Separatists and human rights activists say that on the way home, his car was ambushed and Mr. Eluay was abducted. His body was found the next day, showing signs of torture.
Some military officials say Mr. Eluay died in an accident. Others deny any role in Mr. Eluay's death. But Willy Mandowen, from the Papua Presidium Council, says Mr. Eluay was murdered and that it is likely the military was involved. "Such killing didn't happen to the governor or head of parliament, only to the political leaders and the guerrillas in the jungle who have a different opinion than the government," Mr. Mandowen said.
Indonesia's national human rights body says there are indications the military may have been involved in Mr. Eluay's death. Local human rights groups want an international body to investigate.
Fighting between separatist guerrillas and Indonesian troops began in 1969 - after a special ballot of Irian Jayan tribal leaders voted to integrate with Indonesia. The ballot won the approval of the United Nations. Independence supporters now say that the vote was not fair because only pro-Indonesia leaders were allowed to participate.
The government of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri says it is doing what it can to encourage the people of Irian Jaya to drop their demands for independence.
The legislature recently passed a special autonomy bill allowing the province to retain control of 80 percent of the royalties from logging and fishing in the resource-rich province. The new law also allows it to keep 70 percent of the revenue from mining and oil and gas exploitation in the province.
President Megawati is expected to visit the province in late December when the law goes into full effect - including a clause changing its name to Papua.
The visit is a wise decision, says Arian Ardie, an independent political analyst with experience in Irian Jaya's situation. "Her decision to directly go to Papua to present this when it takes effect is a very positive move. I would hope that while she's there that she does and her administration take the time to engage in further meaningful dialogue. And that's something that I think Papuan society greatly desires and it will help to resolve the issues that are still outstanding," he said.
Many observers say the special autonomy bill alone will not solve Irian Jaya's problems. They say the territory's people mostly want recognition for the province's history and justice for human rights violations carried out by Indonesian troops.