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Franzalbert Joku Interview

Dateline Program SBS TV, Australia August 15, 2001

Tomorrow, the representatives of 16 nations will gather in Nauru for this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. But missing from the guest list will be representatives from West Papua -- an Indonesian province seeking independence. Although the West Papuans were given entree last year, this time around, host nation Nauru has told them they are not welcome. Indonesia, on the other hand, is joining the Forum for the first time. I spoke earlier with Franzalbert Joku of the Papua Presidium Council.

JANA WENDT: Mr. Joku, welcome to Dateline. Why do you believe that your representatives have been barred from the South Pacific Forum?

FRANZALBERT JOKU, WEST PAPUAN INDEPENDENCE LEADER: Jana, it was an event that was not unanticipated. Ever since we made it to Tarawa, the Forum last in Kiribati, we more or less half expected that we would run into some turbulent waters, because Australia and other larger countries made it known openly that we were not welcome there, and the issue was sensitive, given the close relations of Australia and other countries such as my own, Papua New Guinea, have with Indonesia. Indonesia also from the day announcement was made that it was being allowed in as a post-forum dialogue partner, statements to that effect were also distributed through their embassies opposing West Papuan participation at the Forum.

JANA WENDT: Are you saying that Australia has been lobbying other member nations to exclude you?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: That is not a new event, Jana. For the past 30 years or so, successive Australian governments have been uncomfortable with the West Papuan independence struggle for regional and stability consideration. So we are not surprised that this eventuated.

JANA WENDT: Well, let me just say that a spokesman for Foreign Minister (Alexander) Downer has said that Australia has had no contact with Nauru, either on a governmental or a diplomatic level and that Australia has not been lobbying. What do you say?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: I don’t expect him to say anything else. Given the sensitive nature of the issue at hand and that is the standard diplomatic line to take. And I accept that.

JANA WENDT: And yet last year, after the conclusion of the Forum, you were full of praise, were you not, for Australia?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: Because Australia allowed the consensus will to emerge and eventually being incorporated into the official communiqué, even though Australia had very strong reservations about its inclusion, inclusion of a position statement by the Pacific Islands Forum.

JANA WENDT: So Mr. Joku, what’s changed then between last year and this year to harden Australia’s attitude?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: Nothing has changed. I think what has happened is that there has been a lot of pressure, I know from Indonesia on the Australian government because if you recall, after the Tarawa Forum, accusations were leveled from Jakarta at Australia, even though they probably knew that Australia didn’t quite support the West Papuan issue being discussed, and let alone being included in the forum communiqué. But Indonesia put the blame squarely on Australia. And I think Australia had to find a way to crawl out of that kind of uncomfortable position in my view.

JANA WENDT: The issue of your being excluded from the Forum, the reason that is being given by the president of Nauru is that your people are bitterly divided and he says that you need to get your own house in order. How do you respond to that?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: Jana, this is the same old line which has been used by Indonesia, by Australia and various other countries to dampen the rising nationalism in West Papua. I’m not surprised that the same line has been used. And incidentally -- the statement by President Rene Harris -- at first glance, I thought it came from Canberra because it’s almost word for word with the argument Prime Minister (John) Howard advanced at the leaders’ retreat and later on at the formal session of the forum itself, arguing that West Papuans were not worth listening to, were bitterly divided and so on. So we’re not surprised what has happened and we think we know where it came from.

JANA WENDT: Mr. Joku, the Forum kicks off tomorrow. Indonesia will have status there. You have no voice. That’s a severe setback, isn’t it?

FRANZALBERT JOKU: If you look at it that way. But for us, the Forum is only part of a broader process to take up our issue. Our faith is not going to be decided at Nauru, or at any other forum. We wanted to give, and still do, to give opportunity for leaders and countries of this region to have a say and contribute towards finding a sustainable solution to the West Papuan problem. But the Forum is not everything. If the leaders in this country, governments in this region are not going to listen to our pleas for help, then we will take the West Papuan issue further afield, and hopefully there will be other parties who may be willing to listen to us.

JANA WENDT: Franzalbert Joku, we must leave it there. Thank you very much for your time tonight.

FRANZALBERT JOKU: It’s a privilege talking to you Jana and hope to see you soon.

Provided by: Australia West Papua Association, Sydney PO Box 65 Millers Point Australia 2000 Tele/fax 61.2. 99601698 Newsletter: http://www.zulenet.com/AWPA/wpglue.html 

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