IRIAN JAYA'S NEW PLAYER FRANZALBERT JOKU MAKES GRAB FOR LIMELIGHT

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By Rowan Callick

MELBOURNE, Australia (January 11, 2001 – Australian Financial Review/Joyo Indonesian News/Kabar-Irian)---East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta laid down the template for winning independence from Indonesia. First set up shop in a neighboring country.

Then lurk, irritate, cajole, take up every two-bit speaking invite, schmooze the media, churches and non-government organisations. Above all, internationalize the cause.

Enter the new boy on the block: Franzalbert Joku, super-articulate in both English and Bahasa Indonesian.

He may not win a Nobel Prize like his East Timorese counterpart, whom he met recently with Xanana Gusmao at the United Nations, where they avidly swapped notes, but Joku has rapidly become a crucial player in troubled Irian Jaya, which is emerging as the new testing ground for Australian regional policy.

In his first major interview, he told The Australian Financial Review that East Timor-style anti-independence militias were already being established by military elements in preparation for a violent endgame.

Joku will become a familiar figure to Australians over the coming months and years.

He carries the unwieldy title of international affairs moderator of the presidium of the Dewan Papua, the Papua Council, which has for the first time in 40 years united the independence movement of Irian Jaya.

But he is light on his feet, shuttling his office with his laptop between Australia, where he has family members, Papua New Guinea, of which he is a citizen, and surreptitiously Indonesia.

His assignment is to be the voice and face of his movement to the world.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, has declined to meet him so far.

But Joku may come to haunt Downer anyway, turning up like Banquo's ghost as the ubiquitous uninvited guest, his stories and stances feeding unwelcome and prickly questions at any meeting, seminar or press conference touching on Indonesia or the region in general.

He comes from a chiefly family from Sentani, near the Irian Jayan capital of Jayapura, in the northeastern corner of the province.

The family fled, in dramatic circumstances, to Papua New Guinea, where Joku was the founding editor of the crusading Times of PNG, and more recently worked as chief of staff for Sir Julius Chan when he was Prime Minister.

His first big coup in his new career as globetrotting campaigner and student statesman was to take a prominent behind-the-scenes role as a delegate of tiny Nauru, in the annual leaders' meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, in Kiribati in October.

There, he flew the morning star independence flag, and secured a place for the Irian Jaya issue in the forum's final communiqué.

He has come a long way from Sentani. But he is now assiduously working his way back home.

For the present, he is formally barred from entering Irian Jaya, which he can view from the PNG side of the border that stretches almost 900 kilometers (540 miles) down the center of the New Guinea island.

Joku was born in 1953, the eldest son in a family of eight children. When his father died a dozen years ago, he succeeded him as chief.

As a young boy, he used to sneak out of bed to listen to the adults talking and planning, very often, on the theme of independence. "I grew up knowing nothing else but West Papuan politics.''

Joku remembers clearly the first mass arrests in his village.

"Then, when my father was released after his first period in custody, he was so badly beaten that we only recognized him by the way he walked towards our house.''

Further spells in and out of military jails followed. Finally, his father decided to get away.

He walked the 60 kilometers (36 miles) to Wutung, just across the border in PNG, where the then Australian authorities granted him political asylum remarkably swiftly.

Then the security forces began coming around to interrogate Joku's mother.

A month later, anxious about the entire family's future, she woke the eight children, the youngest just 18 months old, before dawn and led them down a track to the sea, where relatives had arranged a motorized canoe for them.

The six-hour voyage to Vanimo in PNG was "a lonely and terrible journey,'' said Joku, who the day before had spent his first day at high school. The family was swiftly reunited with the father.

"That was the turning point,'' he said, "the event that gave us a new future.''

The family then began a trek around PNG: to Wewak, to Manus island, to Sangara near Kokoda, and finally to Port Moresby.

Joku won a scholarship to Rabaul International High School. There, as Australia was grappling with the future of its colony, Joku met some of PNG's most prominent independence campaigners, including John Kaputin, Oscar Tammur, and Julius Chan, with whom he was later to work closely.

Joku said: "My father told my older sister and me: ‘If you want to feel the heat of the fire, get closer. Get to the heart of the political action,’ which was the capital.''

He won a Bougainville Copper Ltd. scholarship to the University of PNG, but halfway through his course PNG became independent, in 1975, "and the excitement and the enthusiasm for nation building swept me into journalism.''

"Those were bittersweet days,'' he said. "Bitter, because nothing was happening on the other side of the border, but sweet to be part of the independence of our fellow Melanesians in PNG.

"We are starting to have our run now.''

His father set up a small business in Port Moresby, with the help of an Australian schoolteacher Joku had met at Rabaul, which just earned enough to support the family.

In 1976, they became PNG citizens. Some fellow Irianese hung back, determined to await the opportunity to become citizens of a free West Papua, but Joku's father insisted that a permanent status was a source of strength, and he preferred to be a Papua New Guinean than an Indonesian.

Inevitably, the independence movement fragmented in exile, with many of the early leaders being driven overseas between 1962, when the Indonesians seized control, and 1998 when the activists began to form a common front, excited by the downfall of the Suharto dynasty and later by East Timor's escape from the Jakarta fold.

"I hung back as Indonesia divided and ruled,'' said Joku. "I also wanted to be rid of the ‘refugee’ or ‘political activist’ tag from which others in my family suffered, so I deliberately steered clear of lobbying, or even running stories about the struggle in The Times when I became an editor.''

He believes that one day a form of union between PNG and Irian Jaya is likely. "In a fast growing global community we can't afford to remain in our own separate hamlets.''

Joku returned to Irian Jaya for the first time in 23 years, in 1986. He arrived illegally, was deported, returned by canoe, and was then permitted to stay a fortnight after relatives with the local administration made representations.

On his return to Port Moresby, he reported to his father that things were not looking good. Already, transmigrasi sponsored settlers and other arrivals from elsewhere in Indonesia were marginalizing the indigenous Melanesians.

Today, the Melanesian population of fewer than 2 million comprises just over half the total in the province.

The Jokus agreed that the independence movement had to be rebuilt from within, and Franzalbert's father and mother returned, with visas; the Indonesians were and are keen to see refugees return, to placate doubters.

Quietly, the Jokus worked to patch up differences, especially with Theys Eluay, another paramount chief, who had been viewed as pro-Indonesian, having served three consecutive five-year terms in the Indonesian provincial assembly.

Today, Eluay is the chairman of the Papua Council and has been detained by the Indonesians, with other council leaders.

Joku's father died in 1989, and is buried at the ancestral burial ground on Lake Sentani. Joku then returned for three years to Irian Jaya, arousing suspicion among some Irianese that he was conceding to Indonesia.

"I felt then that if we allowed Indonesian rule to continue, we were destined to die out destined for genocide within 60 to 70 years.''

Joku, who returned frustrated to PNG in 1992, was elected chairman of the Irianese community in PNG and the Pacific in 1999. But he acknowledged the leadership of the overall movement within Irian Jaya itself, and flew to Holland, where many exiles had settled, to persuade them to take the same line.

"I didn't succeed instantly, but felt the message was registering.''

In June 1999, at a meeting at Eluay's house, Joku proposed that they return to the structure and symbols of 1961, when the Irianese had claimed independence as the Dutch colonizers prepared to quit: the morning star flag and national anthem, and the Dewan Papua incorporating representatives from all major Melanesian groups.

"I said this would bind us together as a multilingual, multitribal organization. The embryo of the council, re-formed after 38 years, was hatched then.''

The idea gathered ground as representatives talked with groups around the province and, in February 2000, President Wahid permitted a consultative meeting in Jayapura, to which Joku led a delegation of 30 from overseas.

That meeting formalized the council's structure, with 501 members and a presidium or executive of 31. Joku was chosen as one of three moderators within the 31.

He had been about to shift from working for PNG's Trade Minister to a job with the new privatization commission there, but he has put this and all other elements of his life on hold since the council's formation.

The internationalization of the cause, Joku's new prime role, is "very, very important,'' he said. "It lifts the image of the movement, and could convince the international community that the struggle is worthwhile, at least looking at.

"It's amazing the progress we've made at this in under 18 months.''

The East Timor experience, he said, "demonstrates how a receptive media can become an effective tool in liberating a nation. The Australian media did that almost single-handedly.''

The Australian Government is something else.

"We understand and respect the predicament it faces in having to live with, let alone deal with, Indonesia, and therefore wishes the West Papua issue would blow away.

"But that's not going to happen.''

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

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