PRESIDENT WAHID’S CHRISTMAS VISIT TRIES TO CALM WEST PAPUA

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PRESIDENT WAHID’S CHRISTMAS VISIT TRIES TO CALM WEST PAPUA

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 25, 2000 - Post-Courier/Kabar-Irian/Radio/PINA Nius Online)---Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has flown to West Papua for a Christmas visit from which pro-independence leaders in the troubled province say they have been excluded.

His visit came as:

** Neighboring Papua New Guinea and Australia reaffirmed their stand on the Indonesian-ruled province, saying it was Indonesia's internal problem.

** A Swiss journalist, home after being jailed in West Papua, said he saw West Papuans being tortured by Indonesian police in the jail he was held in.

Radio Australia reported President Wahid was expected to attend Christmas celebrations in a sports hall in the provincial capital Jayapura.

But it said pro-independence leaders said they have not received an invitation to attend, nor have they requested to meet with the President.

Despite President Wahid's calls to release a number of jailed independence leaders prior to his visit they remain behind bars.

Papuan Presidium Council Mediator Willy Mandowen was quoted by Radio Australia as saying until Jakarta develops a coherent policy on dealing with the people of Papua, members of the presidium Council can see no point in holding talks with him.

In Switzerland, Oswald Iten, of the Neue Zuericher Zeitung newspaper, said Indonesian police tortured West Papuans in the jail he was held in for allegedly working in West Papua while on a tourist visa.

Mr. Iten had tried to cover events surrounding a December 1 anniversary of an unsuccessful 1961 declaration of independence by West Papuans.

West Papuan pro-independence leader Theys Eluay and others arrested in a crackdown during the anniversary celebrations continue to be held by Indonesian police for advocating the secession from Indonesia.

In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer discussed border issues. These included not only West Papuan refugees coming across but also independence fighters seeking safe refuge in Papua New Guinea.

"And I’ve been very pleased that the Papua New Guinea government wants to do what it can to stop their territory being used in that sort of way," Mr. Downer said.

Mr. Downer said autonomy for West Papua was an issue being discussed by President Wahid and that was an internal matter. He said if new arrangements could be worked out between Jakarta and people in Irian Jaya (West Papua), which created a greater sense of unity and satisfaction in Irian Jaya, that would be good.

"One of the things you do have to remember though is that the situation in Irian Jaya is (that) in Irian Jaya, about 45 per cent of the population are not actually indigenous to Irian Jaya. They are from other parts of Indonesia," he said.

Some people in the province wanted independence, but others did not, the minister said.

"The best thing we can do is encourage constructive, positive dialogue and peaceful resolution of any differences there might be. But the worst thing we can do, is encourage a violent independent struggle, which will, of course, cause enormous bloodshed. And I think that it will not be in Australia and Papua New Guinea’s interests to get involved in that game at all.

"I think Australia and Papua New Guinea would be very unwise to do that but there again, nobody in significant policy making positions in Australia or Papua New Guinea is interested in going down that path."

Late last week four Papuans and an Indonesian soldier died in continuing violence, according to reports reaching Jakarta.

A human rights group in West Papua told the Jakarta Post:

** Indonesian soldiers shot dead four Papuans who were in a group raising their Morning Star flag, a symbol of the West Papuan call for independence

** The West Papuans then attacked the Indonesian soldiers, using bows and arrows and machetes, and one Indonesian was killed and two injured.

The Indonesians said instead that their soldiers were attacked first when they tried to lower the flag.

West Papua, which is rich in resources, lies on the western half of the same island as Papua New Guinea. It has been the scene of growing tension following Indonesian arrests of the West Papuan independence leaders.

Extra Indonesian troops have been in West Papua as part of an increased military presence due to December 1 Papuan celebrations of an unrecognized West Papua declaration of independence.

The West Papuans first declared their independence on December 1, 1961 as the former Dutch administrators departed following Indonesian pressure and the Indonesians moved in. Indonesian-rule was ratified by the United Nations in a controversial 1969 vote in which only selected people took part.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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