Nethy Dharma Somba, Jayapura
Indonesian and Papua New Guinea (PNG) agreed on Thursday to build three vocational high schools in border areas to improve human resources in both countries, and later help counter separatism.
A cooperation agreement on education was signed by Indra Djati Sidi, the director of elementary and high school education at the Indonesian ministry of education, and the acting deputy secretary of the PNG education department, Damien Rapese.
The cooperation agreement comes on the heels of an agreement reached at meeting between senior officials from Indonesia and PNG in June last year in Port Moresby.
The three planned schools will be built in the border areas of Skouw, Jayapura regency; Mindiptana, Boven Digoel regency; and Sota, Merauke regency.
Construction work will start in 2004 and finish three years later, with each school costing Rp 1 billion (US$112,359).
Sidi said the Indonesian government had allocated Rp 1 billion for the construction of one school and cover its operational costs for one year.
""We will complete this program in three years. But the central government will help fund its operational costs for five years,"" he said.
During the signing ceremony in the auditorium of a vocational high school in Jayapura on Thursday, PNG officials did not specify the cost of the education cooperation program.
The meeting was also attended by the director of vocational education at the national education ministry, Gatot HP, Indonesian Ambassador to PNG, JRG Djopari, the Indonesian consul in Vanimo, Leo Widayatmo, Papua administration secretary Decky Asmuruf and PNG's governor of Sandaun, Carlos Yuni, MP.
Under the agreement, the two neighboring countries will also set up a community skills center at the Yoteva View Hotel, Jayapura, to improve the community interest-based human resources of Papuans.
Papuan students from Indonesia and PNG would be allowed to study at the three schools or enroll in the center to learn vocational skills.
Currently, there are at least 20 PNG students taking part in a three-month program in vocational schools in Papua. They were given US$8,000 in scholarships on Thursday by the Indonesian central government. The assistance was handed over to Djopari.
Sidi said the building of the schools in the border areas was also expected to help counter separatist disturbances and provocations against Indonesia as ""the locals will be more educated"".
People living in the border areas share socio-cultural traditions and family relationships, as members of extended families living on both sides of the border, according to Decky Asmuruf.
""Many PNG citizens have relatives in Indonesia and vice versa. Therefore, the education cooperation program will have a positive effect on building closer relations between the two neighbors,"" he said.
However on Wednesday, the Women's Alliance in the Skouw border area, Muara Tami district, demanded that traditional PNG traders, especially those from the hamlet of Wutung, be prohibited from selling their agricultural produce in Papua.
The demand was conveyed by alliance chairwoman Paulina Retto during a meeting with around 30 traditional women traders from PNG at the immigration office in Wutung, some 50 kilometers west of Jayapura.
Paulina argued that agricultural products from PNG, such as areca nut, were sold cheaply to the detriment of local Papuan traders.
Areca nuts are sold by the PNG vendors for only Rp 30,000 per 25-kilogram sack, while the price of the local product can be up to Rp 300,000 per sack.
""They (PNG vendors) are killing the market for our agricultural products,"" Paulina said.
Wednesday's meeting was held after Paulina's supporters set up a barricade on the Wutung-Skouw road that stopped PNG traders from entering Jayapura for three days up to May 10.
""When we closed the road, our products sold well,"" She said.
Paulina complained that PNG traders were free to come to Papua, while their Indonesian counterparts had to pass through tight security along the border.