NEW WEST PAPUA CHALLENGE FACES NEW INDONESIA PRESIDENT MEGAWATI

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By Mark Forbes and Lindsay Murdoch

MELBOURNE, Australia (July 26, 2001 – The Age/AP/Kabar Irian)---Indonesia has been confronted with renewed challenges to its rule in Irian Jaya (West Papua), amid fears that new President Megawati Sukarnoputri will give the army a free hand to put down the independence movement.

In a rebuff to Jakarta, a West Papuan independence fighter has rejoined his guerrilla troops on the Papua New Guinea border with the Indonesian province after a PNG court freed him. Indonesia had hoped for his extradition.

And a respected community leader not connected with the guerrillas has said that West Papuans will continue their struggle for independence.

Mrs. Megawati, a strong nationalist, is expected to take a tougher stand on separatist movements than her conciliatory predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, who offered restive provinces autonomy.

The guerrilla leader freed by PNG, Mathias Wenda, is a veteran of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

He was arrested in PNG in January on charges of raising an illegal army. Indonesia had expected Mr. Wenda would be extradited to face charges of subversion and murder.

But he was released from prison in May when the charges were dismissed because the law only applied to PNG citizens.

Mr. Wenda's return to his guerrilla camp sparked factional fighting within the OPM that led to the deaths of three men in a shoot-out at a jungle camp 10 days ago.

Peace talks at the camp this week, witnessed by The Age, have apparently confirmed Mr. Wenda as the OPM military commander and the movement's rejection of autonomy within Indonesia. Mr. Wenda said OPM would negotiate for independence; anything less would lead to a guerrilla campaign resuming.

In a separate development, Tom Beanal, the deputy chairman of the Papuan Presidium Council, which represents the main indigenous groups in Irian Jaya, said that "whoever leads Indonesia, we will continue the struggle to be free".

While stressing that the struggle "does not have to be violent," Mr. Beanal told a conference in the provincial capital, Jayapura, that the presidium's stand had nothing to do with the fall of Mr. Wahid, whose attempts to give concessions to West Papuans were opposed by the armed forces.

Mr. Wahid repeatedly warned of the break-up of Indonesia if he was deposed.

"The demand is purely the wish of Papuans," the Jakarta Post reported Mr. Beanal as saying.

Mrs. Megawati is close to hardline military commanders who favor operations to crush independence movements in Irian Jaya and Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra.

The New York-based Indonesian Human Rights Network urged Mrs. Megawati to end years of military and police violence in the country's far-flung regions and promote reconciliation. But it said that was unlikely.

Activists in Irian Jaya say security forces have stepped up attacks in the past few weeks against the OPM and its supporters.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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

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