AUSTRALIANS 'PROVOKING VIOLENCE' IN PAPUA

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By Lindsay Murdoch Herald Correspondent In Jayapura

JAYAPURA, Papua, Indonesia (May 31, 2000 – Sydney Morning Herald)---Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Alwi Shihab, has accused unnamed Australian non-government organizations of inciting violence in its troubled province of Papua.

But there are no Australian non-government organizations (NGOs) operating in the vast and remote Indonesian province, where demands for independence are growing.

The Indonesian Observer quoted Mr. Shihab as saying that "Indonesia's foreign policy places Australia as an external factor that endangers its national integrity, especially in Papua."

He said: "Australia endangers our national integrity through upheaval ... provoked by Australian NGOs ..."

Mr. John Rumbiak, the head of the province's main human rights group, ELS-HAM, said Mr. Shihab's comments indicated that Jakarta wanted to destabilize an independence congress being held in the capital, Jayapura, this week.

"It's possible he [Mr. Shihab] wants to provoke the society here," Mr. Rumbiak said.

Representatives of NGOs in Jayapura said the only possible case Mr. Shihab could be referring to was that of Mr. Saul Dalton, an Australian arrested last year and later convicted of an immigration offence. He had no links to NGOs and was forced to leave the province after serving three months in jail.

Government officials in Jayapura said last night that they had not heard the allegations.

Mr. Shihab's comments come ahead of a planned trip to Australia, possibly in late July, by Indonesia's President, Mr. Abdurraham Wahid, who has said he wants to see improved relations with Canberra after they ruptured over Australia's involvement in peacekeeping in East Timor.

But Mr. Shihab has made it clear he believes Indonesia's foreign policy priorities should be aimed at developing ties in countries other than Australia, especially in the Middle East.

Thousands of delegates from across Papua are attending the Papuan People's Congress this week, which is expected to reject Indonesia's rule of the province, where the armed forces are accused of widespread human rights abuses.

No Australian diplomats are attending and the only reference to Australia at the congress has been made by a Papua New Guinea provincial governor, Mr. John Tekewie, who called on Australia, with the Netherlands and the U.S., to take up the cause of Papuan independence.

Mr. Tekewie said the three countries had to make up for their actions in 1969, when the United Nations accepted the integration of the former Dutch colony into Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Muslim fighters armed with high-powered weapons have launched a second pre-dawn attack on Christian villages on the island of Halmahera, in Indonesia's North Maluku province.

In what church sources have described as a "horrific slaughter" at least 50 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded over five days. Their killers are thought to be Jihad, holy war fighters who have traveled from Java to attack Christians.

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