- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

JAYAPURA, Indonesia — Five separatist leaders in resource-rich Irian Jaya province went on trial for subversion yesterday in a case that focuses fresh attention on the forces tearing at this vast nation.
"In a sense its putting Papuan aspirations on trial and it could be a very sensitive, potentially explosive event," a foreign diplomat said in Jakarta, about 1,500 miles away.
Residents in this vast and rugged province, home to the giant U.S.-operated Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine, call their territory West Papua. Independence sentiment escalated when thousands of Papuans from a wide section of society met in the provincial capital, Jayapura, in June.
They said their territory has been independent since 1961, and rejected international agreements that led to the former Dutch colonys incorporation with Indonesia in 1969.
The congress nominated a 31-member Papua Presidium Council and gave it the task of opening a dialogue with President Abdurrahman Wahid, who expressed a willingness to listen to the territorys long-standing grievances.
But as Mr. Wahid lost control of policy to government hard-liners, Presidium chairman Theys Eluay and four other Presidium members, including a Protestant minister, were arrested late last year.
They are accused of trying to separate Irian Jaya from Indonesia by making declarations at the June congress and earlier gatherings. They face a maximum of life in prison.
Hundreds of their supporters, some barefoot and dressed in traditional grass skirts, crowded into stairways and hallways outside the tiny courtroom as a prosecutor read the 18-page accusation against Mr. Eluay.
When one of three judges hearing the case asked his nationality, Mr. Eluay replied loudly, "Papuan nationality."
Anum Siregar, one of the defense attorneys, said the case against her clients is a political, not a legal, one.
"It could serve as an example because a lot of other groups want to separate from Indonesia," she said.
The hearing was adjourned for one week while the defense prepares its case.
Unlike Muslim Malays, who make up most of Indonesias 224 million people, West Papuans are of Melanesian and Christian background, although many residents of Java and other Indonesian islands have also settled in the province.
West Papuans complain about violation of their traditional land rights and say they see little benefit from the massive mining revenue that flows to Jakarta. They also charge years of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military.
Jakarta legislators, preoccupied with their attempts to impeach Mr. Wahid, failed to meet a May 1 deadline to issue a proposal that would give Irian Jaya wider powers and more resource revenue.


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