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By Patrick Walters

SYDNEY, Australia (October 25, 2000 – The Australian/Kabar-Irian)---Australia's fragile relations with Jakarta, already severely tested by the East Timor crisis, is now confronted with a new flashpoint: West Papua.

The Australian Council of Trades Unions, led by Vice-President and ALP President Greg Sword, signed a memorandum of understanding last night with West Papuan independence leader Jacob Rumbiak, calling for a UN-sponsored referendum on the future of the mineral-rich Indonesian province.

The ACTU stance, backed by the country's biggest unions, will help fuel perceptions in Jakarta that Australia is actively assisting the dismemberment of Indonesia.

Official ties between Jakarta and Canberra remain at a low ebb, with Indonesia on Monday pulling the plug at the last minute on the biennial ministerial forum meeting, scheduled to begin in Canberra today.

"The Australian union movement wants the UN General Assembly to examine Indonesia's claim over the independent territory of West Papua, which is so close to our northern shores," Mr. Sword said yesterday.

The ACTU also called for an urgent review of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military in West Papua.

"The (memorandum of understanding) recognizes that the internationally sanctioned handover of West Papua from Holland to Indonesia in 1969 was made without the agreement of West Papuans, and has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and spiraling human rights abuses," ACTU spokesman Alan Matheson said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday the ministerial forum between Australia and Indonesia could still take place next month. Jakarta has cited technical reasons for not sending its ministerial delegation to the two-day meeting.

Mr. Downer said yesterday the welcome mat "was still out."

He met Indonesian Ambassador Arizal Effendi yesterday to discuss the sudden cancellation of the forum.

"We think the relationship needs to move forward," Mr. Downer said.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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