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JAKARTA, Indonesia (January 1, 2000 – Joyo Indonesian News/Kabar Irian)---President Abdurrahman Wahid made a public apology for years of human rights abuse in Indonesia.

Wahid made the apology during a visit to the restless province of Irian Jaya last week.

The apology "is very important" since past mistakes were the misimplementation of government policies, Wahid was quoted as saying by the official Antara news agency.

"I am officially conveying my apology for the human rights violations in Papua, Aceh, Ambon, and other provinces," he told a meeting with religious and civic leaders in Jayapura, the capital of Irian Jaya.

He also agreed to officially change Irian Jaya's name to Papua -- an ethnic name for the Melanesian province that shares the island of New Guinea with independent Papua New Guinea. (See Irian Jaya Name Changed To West Papua)

Wahid's visit to Irian Jaya is the first part of a promise made soon after his election last October to visit the troubled regions of Aceh and Irian Jaya to discuss their grievances.

"The human rights violations are something that has disturbed my own feelings," Wahid said at the Friday night gathering, which include four prominent Irian civic leaders.

The four leaders told Wahid that since Irian became a part of Indonesia in 1963, there had been "too many Irianese being killed, tortured, raped as well as suffering from other forms of violence."

Wahid said the human rights problems in Irian Jaya "couldn't be solved in just one or two days." He said justice would take its course.

He stressed he had not interfered in the work of the Commission on Human Rights Violations in East Timor. He said that he urged the commission to "feel free to investigate any individuals and if they are proven guilty, take them to court."

Local and international human rights activists have the accused Indonesian military of committing the abuses in Irian Jaya -- or West Papua -- under the pretext of a military operation to suppress the Free Papua (OPM) separatist movement.

Although separatist sentiment in Irian Jaya is strong, the violence has been on a lesser scale than in other regions such as the Muslim stronghold of Aceh or the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, which voted on August 30 to break from Indonesia.

A free Papua state -- loaded with gold, copper, oil, gas, and other natural resources -- was declared by Irian Jaya leaders while the territory was still under Dutch occupation on December 1, 1961.

Indonesia claimed Dutch New Guinea as its 26th province and renamed it Irian Jaya in 1963 -- a move recognized by the United Nations in 1969.

But the people of the province consider themselves closer to the Melanesian people of the South Pacific than the dominant Javanese in Indonesia.

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