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Hang onto your land

JAYAPURA (UCAN): Bishop John Philip Saklil, from Timika in the troubled Indonesian province of Papua, warned the traditional owners of the land that they should hold onto the last vestiges that remain of their possession.
Jakarta has been destroying the traditional culture and way of life of the traditional Papuan inhabitants in a similar manner to which The Philippines colonised Mindanao in the first half of the last century, when it moved tens of thousands of people from the north into the area and advantaged them through land ownership, business opportunities and education.
Bishop Sakil said that the land is part of the cultural identity of indigenous Papuans and selling it means trading off their cultural heritage.
“I’m worried that future generations of Papuans will have nothing; losing their rights to the land and its treasures,” the bishop said.
Although he noted that the immediate influx of a bit of cash seems attractive to people, he warned that it will not give them any purchase on the future.
 He added that following the alternative of moving to the cities, where all the advantageous opportunities in business and education are reserved for the Indonesian invasion, has no future for the indigenous people.
“If you want to make money, stop moving to cities and remain in the villages to plant and cultivate the land,” he counselled.
Bishop Sakil said he is afraid that if his people ignore his warning, Papuans will lose all their land and remain poor and destitute foreigners in their own land.
Wirya Supriyadi, the coordinator of the Jayapura-based Papua People’s Network—an organisation that provides advocacy for economic, social and cultural rights—said that losing property rights is a real threat to Papuans.
“It is a great concern that a large portion of land in Papua has been sold to developers,” Supriyadi noted.
He explained that 441 companies have already secured permits to operate in Papua and manage a concession area of about 29 million hectares from Papua’s total landmass of only 43 million hectares.
“More than half of Papuan land has been bought up by corporations in a dishonest, deceitful way,” he said on July 3.
John Gobay, the chairperson of the Papuan Customary Council, called on his fellow Papuans to heed Bishop Saklil’s warning or else corporations will control the whole of Papua. “All communities must communally guard their land.”
He also called on the government to protect the rights of indigenous people by creating a policy to prohibit people from selling their land, including sanctions for those that breach it.
“Without it, the bishop’s call would be useless,” he said, adding that the bishop’s fear that Papuans will lose their ownership of land will become a reality one day if action is not taken now.
Engelbertus Degey, the administrator of the Mapia Tengah district, agreed with the bishop, but asked the Church to engage seriously with all parties.
“The Church has a big influence. I hope Timika diocese can be more focussed in order that the Stop Land Selling Campaign will be more effective,” Degey added.
He said that he hopes the Church will be able to unite all communities, government and non-governmental organisations in supporting the campaign.

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