PRO-INDEPENDENCE PAPUANS RALLY SUPPORT BEFORE SUVA FORUM

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 31, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Pro-independence West Papuans are rallying support ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Suva and warning of possible new violence in the Indonesian province.

They want West Papua discussed when the 16-nation Forum meets in Suva in two weeks, especially the so-called Act of Free Choice that Indonesia says legitimizes its rule.

In lobbying ahead of the Suva Forum:

In Suva, West Papuan representative Rex Rumakiek highlighted what he describes as a buildup of Indonesian forces. He called on all Pacific Islands governments to urge the Indonesian Government to withdraw its troops.

In Wellington, John Ondawame, International Representative of the OPM (Free Papua Movement), made a flying visit to rally support among new members of the New Zealand Parliament. He urged the New Zealand Government to promote a review of the Act of Free Choice at the United Nations General Assembly and the Pacific Islands Forum.

Pro-independence groups scored a major victory when they got West Papua on the agenda at the 2000 Pacific Islands Forum Meeting in Kiribati. This was mainly the result of support from Nauru and Vanuatu.

But they suffered a setback in Nauru last year. The Nauruans said there were too many groups claiming to represent the West Papuans and admitted none while the Forum was in session. Indonesia, meanwhile, was accepted as a post-Forum dialogue partner.

The Suva-based Pacific Concerns Resource Center, which campaigns for West Papuan independence, said Indonesian forces plan an operation about 90 kilometers (54 miles) from the capital, Jayapura. This is focused on the surrounding areas near the town of Demta.

The Indonesian military are targeting an area used by the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), or Free Papua Movement, for training, the statement said.

Many people in the area have already fled into the forest over fear for their safety, the statement said.

It quoted Mr Rumakiek as saying: "We ask that the Fijian Government, and all governments in the region, to urge the Indonesian Government to order its military to halt any planned operation as a way of easing tensions and ultimately save lives in the province."

Mr. Rumakiek, a board member of the Pacific Concerns Resource Center, lives in Australia. He is a member of the OPM National Council and has been a representative of the OPM Foreign Mission in the Pacific for many years, the statement said.

The statement said: "This build up of troops continues as various civil society organizations, both Papuan and non-Papuan, have been meeting to discuss how to achieve peace in West Papua.

"There is also tension in the border area with Papua New Guinea, where extra troops have been sent to counter what the military believe could be OPM activity as the date of the so-called Act of Free Choice in August 1969 approaches."

The 1969 Act confirmed Indonesia's takeover of the resource-rich former Dutch colony,

In the 1960s, the Indonesians, who had won their own independence from Dutch colonial rule, began fighting to take control of West Papua from the Dutch.

The province was officially taken over following a controversial 1969 referendum after the Dutch departed following American pressure.

Pro-independence West Papuans call the referendum a sham and say only a small number of men who were intimidated by the Indonesian military were allowed to take part.

In Wellington, another statement described Mr. Ondawame's visit. Mr Ondawame was quoted as saying that recent reports from West Papua are bleak, and that there are grave fears of renewed violence.

Yefeth Yelemaken, a respected highland chief, died recently after a mysterious poisoning, he was quoted as saying. There are reports that many other community leaders are also under threat, he said.

The statement said one way New Zealand can help is by supporting the international campaign for a review of the 1969 United Nations "Act of Free Choice."

This is now widely acknowledged to have been a fraudulent act of self-determination, the statement said.

It said only 1,025 West Papuans were allowed to vote and they did so under severe duress.

A senior United Nations official at the time, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, has described the referendum as nothing more than a whitewash, the statement said.

The West Papuan independence movement looks to neighboring Pacific nations to help them reclaim their destiny as people of the South Pacific, it said.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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