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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 3, 2001 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches is making a strong plea to the government to recognize the plight of the West Papuan border crossers.

The call comes following a visit by Council of Churches General Secretary Sophia Gegeyo and the Social Concerns Desk Secretary Peter Saroya to Vanimo, where the West Papuans are living.

The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches is calling on the government to establish a parliamentary committee that deals with West Papua and all other related issues.

The visit to the border crossers is a follow-up on the one made by Mr. Saroya last December.

The second visit was made to deliver humanitarian assistance to the border crossers, identify their needs, conduct further assessment of the current situation and establish a communication network between the Council of Churches and the Catholic Diocese of Vanimo.

During this tour last month, Mrs. Gegeyo -- with funding from the Pacific Conference of Churches -- purchased relief supplies for the people.

The call came as reports from across the border said Indonesian police had shot four more West Papuans in further clashes over the raising of their pro-independence Morning Star flag.

At a media briefing, Papua New Guinea Council of Churches Vice President Major Andrew Kalai told reporters that the situation with the border crossers has a big impact on PNG as well as the crossers themselves.

"Problems that exist near the border affect our people. Not agreeing to assist due to political reasons is one matter and providing relief supplies to mainly women and children is another," he said.

He said the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches main concern is for the women and children.

Currently, there are almost 512 border crossers, the majority of whom are women and children.

"The figure may have increased as about 67 were reported to have crossed over during the Easter weekend," Mr. Saroya said.

The West Papuans began fleeing across the border into Papua New Guinea by land and by boat following a renewed Indonesia security forces crack down on West Papua's independence movement.

The Indonesians have ruled the resource-rich former Dutch colony since the 1960s, having named the province Irian Jaya.

West Papuans say a so-called act of free choice under which the Indonesians took control of West Papua was a sham in which only a very small and very intimidated number of men took part. Human rights groups say thousands of people have since died in fighting between the West Papuans and the Indonesian security forces, who have been accused of widespread human rights violations.

Indonesia has also promoted a trans-migration policy, which sent Muslim Asian settlers from heavily populated Indonesian islands into the province. The West Papuans are mainly Melanesians and Christian.

Mrs. Gegeyo said the Diocese of Vanimo has been the only source of care for the

86 families who are now living in 36 makeshift shelters provided by the diocese.

The Vanimo Diocese is assisting these people through its operational account and the PNGCC is calling on other organizations to assist in any way possible to lighten the burden of the diocese.

"The PNG government is keeping very quiet over this issue, while the Sandaun Provincial Government is unable to assist due to financial constraints," said Mrs. Gegeyo.

The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches is calling on the public and other churches and organizations to assist the border crossers.

All assistance can be channeled through the council office at Korobosea in Port Moresby or the Catholic Diocese of Vanimo.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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