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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 31, 2001 - The National/Kabar-Irian/PINA Nius Online)---International humanitarian aid has been sought for a growing number of West Papuan refugees pouring across the Western province section of the Papua New Guinea-Indonesian border.

Appeal letters for help have been sent to the Australian Government, its Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, the Australian Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, the United States Senate, and human rights groups in Fiji and England.

The West Papuans are reported to be fleeing from renewed clashes between Indonesian soldiers and Free Papua Organization (OPM) separatist rebels, who have been fighting for a free Papuan state.

While those crossing West Sepik province section of the border have been the focus of attention in recent months, little had been told about those in Western province. The number is estimated to be in the hundreds and growing.

OPM supporters in Papua New Guinea, who circulated the appeal, have indicated in a report that the West Papuans are suffering from varying diseases and require urgent medical attention.

They are also in dire need for drinking water, shelter, clothing, mosquito nets, soap and, most importantly, food.

Meanwhile, across the border, airline tickets are being prepared for West Papuan pro-independence leader Willem Onde and his men to go to Jakarta to meet with President Abdurrahman Wahid, the Jakarta Post reported.

This is part of the agreement for the release of Indonesian and Korean timber workers kidnapped by the separatist group on January 16.

Irian Jaya (West Papua) Police spokesman Maj. Zulkifli said Merauke regent John Globe Gebze, who led the team negotiating with Onde's men, had left the negotiation site and was preparing Onde's trip to Jakarta.

Around 10 people, including traditional and religious figures, will accompany Onde on the trip, Zulkifli told the Jakarta Post. However, he did not have any idea when Onde would leave for Jakarta.

Onde had asked to meet the President anytime within seven days after he released 13 of the hostages. Three hostages remain detained as Onde wants a guarantee that his request to meet the President is granted, the Jakarta Post said.

Onde at first demanded compensation for the destruction of local forests, a total halt to logging and the withdrawal of the Police Mobile Brigade from Asiki.

The Jakarta Post reported that the newly installed Trikora Military chief, Maj. Gen. Mahidin Simbolon, said that Onde, who is over 50, is a good friend of members of the Army elite troops Kopassus posted at Merauke. "Onde had also met Gus Dur (the president) prior to the Papuan Congress in November last year."

"Onde demanded that the (Indonesian) government give him and his men plots of land and houses. The request has yet to be fulfilled since the government has been too busy with a myriad of other problems. Kopassus itself could not make the necessary land and houses available for him," Mahidin said.

In recent months there have been bloody clashes in mineral-rich West Papua following the Indonesian police arrest of Melanesian West Papuan pro-independence leaders.

Human rights activists say thousands of people have died in years of fighting between Indonesian security forces and West Papuans seeking independence. Many of the province's two million people still live a traditional life in the mountainous interior.

The province was officially taken over by the Indonesians 37 years ago as the result of a controversial referendum after the departure of the Dutch, who had ruled the territory. The West Papuans call the referendum a sham and say only a small and intimidated number of people was allowed to take part.

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

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