People's congress votes
for Riau independence

JAKARTA (JP): The second Riau People's Congress in the provincial capital Pekanbaru concluded on Tuesday with a poll that resulted in a majority votefor independence.

Of 623 ballots cast, 270 were in favor of independence, 199 for autonomy,146 for the federal option and the remaining eight were abstentions.

The chairman of the four-day congress, Dun Usul, said the results of the event would be presented to the central government and promoted to the public.

""We are pleased that the independence option was agreed upon in a peaceful manner. Our intention was to reach an agreement without violence and bloodshed,"" Usul, who represented the Riau People's Communication Forum(FKPMR), said.

A total of 2,025 representatives of local government, nongovernmental organizations, universities and tribes attended the event, which was originally scheduled to close on Monday. Only one-third of the participantswere allowed to cast a ballot.

Acrimonious debate over the vote forced the organizers to extend the congress.

There were three options -- independence, federal state or autonomy -- offered in the vote.

""The result is considered legitimate, and we will report this result to the central government through the House of Representatives (DPR),"" Usul said as quoted by Antara.

Independence demands were first heard early last year when a group of students declared an independent state in Riau. They also named Tabrani Rab, a cultural figure, the president of an independent Riau.

The congress, the second of its kind, was held in response to the growingdebate on the future of the oil-rich province. Various groups have made their demands, including separation from the republic and the establishmentof a federated state in Indonesia.

The initial congress, held in 1957, resulted in the people's acceptance to join the unitary state of Indonesia.

In response to the congress' result, spokesman for Riau provincial administration Ruskin Har told The Jakarta Post by phone that the congress was an informal forum to gather public aspirations and ""therefore the localadministration will respect it.""

""I don't think the independence vote matters as long as it is aimed at enriching the public discourse. It will be a problem if they (the committee) demand a secession from Indonesia,"" he said.

Ruskin suggested that the congress organizers explain ""what kind of freedom they are searching for. Is it physically free from Indonesia or just mentally free from injustice?""

He said separation from Indonesia would bring Riau several difficult issues ranging from economic and political to psychological matters.

Last week, proindependence students attempted to take over the office of American-based oil company PT Caltex Pacific Indonesia in Rumbai, 10 kilometers north of Pekanbaru, protesting what they called unfair revenue sharing from oil exploitation in the province.

It was the second rally staged to demand improvements in revenue sharing after the previous rally in April last year.

Riau contributes more than half of Indonesia's daily crude oil productionof 1.5 million barrels. (emf)

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