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ABC Australia Asia-Pacific Program

First broadcast: June 27, 2000

Indonesian authorities are pushing ahead with moves to prosecute the organizers of this month's independence Congress in West Papua, even though President Abdurrahman Wahid is preparing to meet several leaders at the presidential palace.

Six Congressional organizers have been named as liable for treason, after the Congress declared Indonesia's rule illegal.

But the hard-line approach by Indonesian police has been criticized for sending the wrong signals at a time when West Papuans are detailing human rights abuses as their reason for breaking away.

From Jakarta, Bronwyn Curran reports.

CURRAN: Within days of the independence declaration Indonesia's Minister for Human Rights, Hasballah M. Saad, was in West Papua launching investigations into some of the killings and torture cases that make up a long list of alleged brutalities by the military. His three-day visit to the province was the first by a government minister in the wake of the Congress’ demand that Jakarta recognize West Papua's sovereignty. Hasballah believes that redressing such abuses is key to taming those calls for independence.

HASBALLAH M. SAAD: First we have to solve all the human rights violations in the past.

CURRAN: Hasballah has ordered a team from his ministry to look into 10 cases of alleged violations over the past 30 years. But punishing people for organizing a Congress doesn't fall under his definition of a violation of human rights. Asked whether he should be protecting the right to freedom of assembly, he says he has something more important to protect – National Unity.

HASBALLAH SAAD: As a Minister in the Republic of Indonesia I think it's not appropriate for you to ask that question. It is impossible for me to support other ideas that are against the Republic of Indonesia. If I do that I am not appropriate to be a minister of the Republic of Indonesia.

CURRAN: While espousing resolution of human rights violations in West Papua Hasballah says he also supports calls by his government colleagues for repressive action against further separatist moves in the province.

HASBALLAH SAAD: I think that's right because we want to put Papua as a part of Indonesian state. There's a strong need, and a strong need for all us in Jakarta to put Papua as part of an Indonesian State because we have a mandate from all of the Indonesian people to do that.

CURRAN: Among those criticizing the Indonesian government's reaction to the Congress is long-time West Papuan observer and academic Franz Maniagasi. He warns that using repression to crack down on the momentum for independence could lead to international condemnation of Jakarta.

FRANZ MANIAGASI: The Indonesian government has failed to understand the political reality developing among the Papua people. In 38 years of integration the problems have never been solved in a thorough and correct way. The government should have found ways to deal with Papua's problems instead of taking repressive and violent measures, because they don't solve the problems. On the contrary, they create new problems, like the occurrence of more human rights violations, which are then politicized into an international issue.

CURRAN: Criticism of Jakarta's reaction to the Congress has also come from a man once perceived as a stooge of the past Suharto government and pro-status quo forces. Yorris Raweyai heads a traditionally pro-Indonesian paramilitary youth organization called Permuda Pancasila. Half Papuan he's also been elected to the pro-Independence Papua Praesidium, a body chaired by independence leader Theys Eluay. Yorris wasn't at the congress though, he was locked in a Jakarta police cell for six weeks as police investigated his alleged involvement in the fatal 1996 attack against the then headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, in which supporters of the breakaway faction led by Megawati Sukarnoputri were killed.

Yorris refuses to state whether he supports independence or a continued integration with Indonesia; rather he advocates mediation and compromise between Jakarta and the independence leaders. He's straightforward though in his condemnation of efforts to charge congress leaders with treason.

YORRIS RAWEYAI: The Indonesian national anthem was sung at the opening of the Congress before the Papua song. How can the government say that's a separatist action? Planning of the congress was done openly; the plans were presented to the president and the central and local governments. It was obvious from the beginning that the congress was going to result in something controversial, so why give permission for it in the first place? And why have the local military commander, police chief and governor attended? They represent the government, don't they?

CURRAN: While police have questioned five of the six congress organizers named as suspects of treason, chief organizer Theys Eluay has so far resisted their summonses. (UPDATE: See: Papua Leader Eluay Meets Police Summons.) Instead he plans to meet President Wahid in the next few days to personally convey to him the Congress' declaration of West Papua's independence. Meanwhile Indonesia's Parliament is preparing to pave the way for the enactment of a new state security bill, which one minister says would enable faster invocation of harsh emergency laws.

Parliamentarians cite the need to contain the mounting separatism in West Papua as one of the reasons for fast tracking the controversial bill, a further signal of Jakarta's unrelenting determination to get tough with separatists.

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