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JAKARTA, Indonesia (May 11, 2000 – Indonesian Observer/Antara/Kabar Irian)---President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday said he is yet to decide whether to attend an upcoming congress of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist group, as his attendance could spark controversy.

"Intelligence and government officials have asked me not to attend the congress, because my presence would mean recognition of the organization," the president was quoted as saying by Antara in Bangkok.

He said the OPM is keen on seeing him attend the congress to show that he is a true democrat. "I have yet to decide on this," he added.

Earlier this year, Wahid told the rebels in Irian Jaya (Papua) he would open their congress. He said they are welcome to discuss separatism and independence, but must not undertake any physical actions that could threaten national unity.

The president has also apologized for military atrocities in the nation’s easternmost province.

Indonesia occupied West Papua, a former Dutch colony, in 1963. The region was renamed Irian Jaya and Indonesian sovereignty was formalized in 1969 following a dubious vote organized by the United Nations.

Secret US government documents at the time showed that UN officials in West Papua believed 95% of the local population wanted independence, and "the Act of Free Choice is a mockery."

In the act, 1,025 Papuans, selected by Indonesia, voted on behalf of the territory’s 800,000 people. Western nations knew the vote was unfair but did nothing about it.

In recent years, one of the main complaints of the separatists has been the rapid transmigration of people from other Indonesian islands coming to Irian Jaya and depriving the indigenous population of work and education opportunities.

Until mid-1998, the Indonesian military ran the province using repressive tactics. Thousands of locals were reportedly killed and tortured during a series of anti-insurgency operations.

In 1998, the government abolished the state of emergency and repression eased. But independence activists have been emboldened by the 1999 secession of East Timor and protests have mounted.



BANGKOK, Thailand (May 10, 2000 – Reuters/Kabar Irian)---Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid said on Wednesday the armed forces should be respected as an institution but he reiterated that individuals who make mistakes in power need to be punished.

He stressed the need for the rule of law in a democracy.

''We should not give judgment in a general way, but in a concrete individual way according to the law,'' he said in a speech at Bangkok's Thammasat University after receiving an honorary doctorate in law.

Wahid said he had told an officers' graduation in Indonesia several months ago of the need to respect the armed forces as an institution.

''But we should not be afraid of giving sentences to those individuals who are making mistakes when they were in power.

''I believe this attitude is the way law is established.''

Wahid was apparently referring to officers like Indonesia's top security minister General Wiranto, who has been suspended pending the outcome of investigations into his role in bloodshed surrounding last year vote for independence in East Timor.

Wahid said that in a democracy it was not always easy to differentiate between what one believed and what happened politically.

Dilemma Over Free Papua

He said this had been shown by a request by separatists in the easternmost Indonesian province of Irian Jaya for him to open a forthcoming congress at which independence will be discussed.

''I said to them freedom of expression means they can say whatever they want, including freedom from Indonesia, but once they organize themselves to act, they will be against me,'' he said.

''That leaves the question of whether I should open their congress or not. Our intelligence people say that would mean recognition of Free Papua, but people in Papua who are trying to have freedom say, 'please come to show you are a democrat'.

''Of course, I won't tell you what decision I will make,'' he said.

Separatist leader Theys Eluay said last month that Wahid had told him in a meeting he would open the congress.

Wahid has been trying to redress grievances of Irianese since coming to power in October but has ruled out independence.

He said Indonesia could learn from Thailand's experience at building a democracy and the way it had worked to achieve economic recovery since the Asian crisis. He went into talks with Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai after the degree ceremony.

Wahid joked that Thammasat had taken a risk in giving him an honorary degree at the ceremony, which was to mark the centenary of the late Pridi Banomyong, a revered Thai democracy campaigner.

''It's not easy for them to give and not easy for me to take,'' he said, ''because I was a dropout from university.

''But I tried to educate myself and I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to take on one of the most difficult jobs in the world.''

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