WEST PAPUAN REFUGEES STAY PUT IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 10, 2001 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---West Papuan refugees camped in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, believe they will be killed by the Indonesian military if they return to the Indonesian-ruled territory.

They are more prepared to accept their fate at the hands of their fellow Melanesians in Papua New Guinea rather than return across the border to Jayapura or Wamena, where most come from.

A total of 367 people made up of 87 families have been living at Transmitter refugee camp in Vanimo for more than nine months since they escaped growing violence in West Papua.

It followed a crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the West Papuan independence movement.

The refugees, who range in age from a month-old baby to several 60 olds, numbered 461 people at one stage. But the numbers -- especially of men – has dwindled at the campsite of kunai-thatched houses. These are slowly being replaced by blue canvas roofed tents, a church building, a clinic/storage building and a partially completed classroom.

The months of dry spell in hot and dry Vanimo has affected water rations with the Vanimo Catholic Diocese supplying water only for drinking and cooking. Recent food rations have been reduced to a kilogram of rice and a tin of Besta canned fish per person per week. They supplement this with kaukau, sugar cane and greens from small gardens in the camp.

Describing Vanimo as a sanctuary, one of the refugee leaders, Elimar Gombo, said they were among 5,000 people from all over West Papua who had planned to come over. But the others had gone back or been forced to stay back.

"We all want full independence. No one forced us to come here. The reason we came over is that we don’t want to remain under Indonesia any more. We want full independence," he said.

Demands for independence have been mounting in West Papua, which the Indonesians call their easternmost province of Irian Jaya. Human rights activists accuse Indonesian security forces of human rights abuses and say thousands of people have died in years of fighting.

In Papua New Guinea, the government has taken a cautious approach to the "border crossers" issue, despite widespread local public sympathy for the refugees.

The local MP and former Cabinet minister Micah Wes, told the Sydney Morning Herald recently: "We see it as one Papua; PNG and Papua should be one island; we have the same customs."

But he said the Papua New Guinea government cannot afford to confront the military might of Indonesia, or recognize the border crossers' plight. The Catholic Church has instead taken a leading role in helping feed and house the refugees.

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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