CONFUSION OVER FUTURE OF WEST PAPUAN BORDER CROSSERS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 26, 2001 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---The fate of 400 West Papuan border crossers camped near Vanimo remains uncertain, with the Indonesia government changing its policy about discussing a possible governance referendum for West Papua.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs officials who planned to visit the camp to talk to the border crossers last week cancelled their visit.

Instead, an Indonesian ministerial delegation will visit Vanimo this week to inform the Papua New Guinea authorities about the change in policy.

The West Sepik administration has been informed that four government ministers from Jakarta will be in Vanimo today to discuss with Papua New Guinea authorities the change in stance.

Papua New Guinea authorities in Vanimo were invited to lunch on Saturday by the Indonesian Consulate in Vanimo for a briefing on the visit.

The changed position of the Indonesians had also left the Papua New Guinea authorities at the border township confused.

"First, the Indonesians said they would send their Foreign Affairs officials to talk to the border crossers about returning back to their homes. Now, they want to talk about a referendum," one official told the Post-Courier in Vanimo.

Meanwhile, a 20-men mobile squad that was sent to Vanimo last December from Lae to arrest leaders of the West Papua rebels, the OPM, who were operating from the PNG side of the border, is stuck in Vanimo, unable to do their work.

The squad does not have the funds to operate in the remote areas of the border, where the rebel leaders are known to be hiding.

Two members of the mobile squad have now been charged with assault on the border crossers camped at Vanimo.

Papua New Guinea and Indonesia (West Papua) share a common border. The Indonesians call West Papua their province of Irian Jaya.

West Papuans have been campaigning for independence since Indonesia occupied the former Dutch colony in 1963.

Hundreds of West Papuan refugees have recently crossed into Papua New Guinea after clashes 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.

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

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

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