REFUGEES IN PNG APPEAL FOR FREE PAPUA

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SYDNEY, Australia (August 20, 2001 – The Australian/Joyo Indonesian News/TAPOL)---Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has been asked by refugees who fled from Irian Jaya into Papua New Guinea late last year to grant freedom to "West Papua."

Their appeal for independence was relayed to her through the Indonesian Consul General when he visited the 361 border-crossers at Vanimo, PNG, on Friday.

They asked Ms. Megawati to honor an alleged promise she made in Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua) in 1998 while she was campaigning for Indonesian elections.

Latest reports suggest Ms. Megawati has embarked on moves to discuss proposals for autonomy in the rebellious Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

The Vanimo border-crossers poured into PNG from the environs of the Irian Jayan provincial capital of Jayapura when the Indonesian army and police began a crackdown on "West Papuan" separatist flag-raisings and violence last October-December.

They have since refused Indonesian and PNG Government requests to voluntarily return home, despite Indonesian assurances of non-retaliation.

They are being cared for at a refugee camp set up near Vanimo by the Catholic Bishop of Vanimo, Bishop Cesare Bonivento.

Their petition, written in Bahasa Indonesian and broken English-pidgin, says they are a "different tribe" to Indonesians with different hair and black skin.

Their meeting with the Indonesian Consul General and his Vice Consul was witnessed by Bishop Bonivento; Catholic Justice, Peace and Development local secretary Michael Kalele; provincial police commander Joe Poma; PNG Defense Force personnel and PNG Government officials.

Signed by refugee Benny Wenda, the petition reminds Ms. Megawati that in 1998, in the Baliem Valley of Irian Jaya, she told the Alliance of West Papuan Students and "the Penis Gourds People's Assembly Council" that she could not give them independence unless they supported her and "I become president of Indonesia."

"So now Mrs. Megawati Sukarnoputri already become president of Indonesia and we still remember that . . ."

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Government voiced hopes yesterday that elections in neighboring East Timor would pass off without incident.

"As the closest neighbor, Indonesia hopes that the elections in East Timor in this transition period will be able to proceed safely because if East Timor is safe, it also will bring a conducive condition that would be advantageous for Indonesia," Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda told the Kompas daily.

Mr. Wirayuda said Indonesia, following an invitation from the United Nations, would send 13 observers to the elections starting on August 30.

Paul Barber TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 25 Plovers Way, Alton Hampshire GU34 2JJ Tel/Fax: 01420 80153 Email: plovers@gn.apc.org  Internet: www.gn.apc.org/tapol 

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