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By Rowan Callick Asia-Pacific Editor

MELBOURNE, Australia (January 12, 2001 – Australian Financial Review/Kabar-Irian)---The independence movement in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya is building links with investors, including with the massive Freeport mine, according to Mr. Franzalbert Joku, the movement's international moderator.

In an interview with The Australian Financial Review, Mr. Joku insisted that an independent Irian Jaya could survive economically.

"We are, and will be, a very wealthy nation. We have abundant resources that can only be the envy of many nations in the world.

"If West Papua [Irian Jaya] is not considered economically viable, why is Indonesia fighting tooth and nail to keep it? Because a large proportion of its tax revenues come from there.

"We want those activities to continue. Freeport mine will definitely stay open," he said.

Freeport, one of the world's largest mines, with decades of reserves left, has begun cautiously placing bets each way after the demise of the Suharto dynasty, to which it seemed to have pinned its considerable fortune.

Mr. Joku added: "We are talking about establishing a modern and viable state, and to do that we have to deal with developers.

"Any sensible leader would want to see such relationships continue.

"We are already holding discussions with Freeport and with other investors, present and potential.

"The business world is very sensitive to the kind of events unfolding in West Papua and wants to see its interests protected. We shall do everything possible, in our power and within reason, to see this happens."

But Mr. Joku said he was "deeply troubled" by the prospect of anti-independence militias being formed, as in East Timor.

"Already there is evidence of such groups being formed by the military," he said.

"The people we have least trouble with are those at the very top, and with ordinary Indonesians living and working in Irian Jaya. The problem is those in between.

"Over the years, military leaders and bureaucrats have carved up West Papua into very lucrative pieces of real estate servicing their own vested interests."

He admitted that the Papua Council, the umbrella body now spearheading the independence campaign, and of which he is one of three moderators, had strong connections with the Melanesians' own long-term armed militants.

Mr. Joku said the council related to the Organisasi Papua Merdeka [OPM or Free Papua Organization] in similar to the relationship between Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army.

The council struck an accord with these groups in Vanuatu last July under which they acknowledge the council as paramount.

"But the OPM has no chance of defeating the Indonesian army," Mr. Joku said.

"It is the political will of the Papuan people that will defeat the military, not the OPM, which is more a symbol of the struggle. In all-out battle, we are defenseless."

However, Mr. Joku paid tribute to this guerilla movement as "serving a very useful purpose at a time when the flame of freedom couldn't otherwise be seen."

Independence talk has attracted some people to come to Irian Jaya from other parts of Indonesia where they have been unhappy, while at the same time causing some settlers who are not indigenous Melanesians to flee.

Mr. Joku said non-Melanesians were not in jeopardy.

"I am confident many will choose to make West Papua their home, and we welcome them to do so. They will be governed by the same laws as everyone in an independent West Papua."

He predicted that the prolonged leadership struggle in Indonesia would end with the nation divided into six or seven smaller countries.

"As much as people, including the current Australian government, wish this does not happen, I feel it is an irreversible process," he said.

Mr. Joku said he was willing to discuss autonomy with Indonesia, but only as an interim stage towards self-determination, with a clear time frame and with a third party such as the UN involved.

He is not interested in a China-Hong Kong style "one country, two systems" formula.

"Sovereign nationhood is our ultimate objective. An amicable and lasting resolution to the issue will contribute to stabilizing the region," he said.

All Papua New Guinea governments have, like Australia, backed Jakarta as the legitimate ruler of Irian Jaya.

"But such formal statements don't in any meaningful way affect the feelings of the PNG public, who overwhelmingly support our campaign," said Mr. Joku, a naturalized PNG citizen who was a prominent newspaper editor there and later chief of staff to Sir Julius Chan when he was prime minister.

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

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