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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 21, 2002 – The National/PINA Nius Online)---The Pacific Islands Forum has maintained that West Papua remains an integral part of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare said.

Sir Michael, on his return from the Pacific Islands Forum summit meeting in Fiji, said the West Papuans were in Fiji to promote independence.

But he said: "The West Papuans have to promote their agenda and plans for greater autonomy within their own country before they go to regional and other international organizations."

The Prime Minister said the Forum organizers did not extend the West Papuan activists observer status -- as they did for East Timor and New Caledonia -- because they recognize Indonesia.

"This is not because we do not like them or do not understand their problem," Sir Michael said.

"We do understand their problem and the need for self-autonomy but we as a Forum and PNG as a country respect Indonesia. We cannot impose the issue on Indonesia."

The pro-independence West Papuans were dealt a blow in Suva when Sir Michael said he could not support them.

Sir Michael said there that Papua New Guinea had a very good understanding with Indonesia and cannot be seen to be involved in what he called Indonesia's internal matters.

He said he had explained Papua New Guinea's position to leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which also includes Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

"Our position is that it would be very difficult to push for (West Papua), because we have a very good rapport and understanding with Indonesia,'' he said at the time.

Sir Michael added that this would remain the position unless the Forum made a collective decision on how it wanted to treat the West Papua issue differently.

West Papuan independence groups were in Suva to lobby support from Forum countries to push for a United Nations review of the so-called "Act of Free Choice" in 1969.

This referendum officially gave Indonesia control of the resource-rich territory, which shares an 800-kilometer (480-mile) land border with Papua New Guinea.

A West Papuan spokesperson, Rex Rumakiek, earlier said Papua New Guinea's support was very important because it "holds the key.'' He had been hopeful of support from Sir Michael, now that he is back as prime minister.

Sir Michael said his personal view was that West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia. But maybe by renaming Irian Jaya as Papua, Indonesia could be signaling a change in its position, he said.

He said he has not spoken with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri about the matter.

But he said Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu would be traveling to Indonesia soon, and the question of West Papua would "definitely'' be raised.

"But at the moment, we cannot entertain them. We can talk to them as individuals but we cannot entertain them as a group,'' he said.

Mr. Rumakiek, while briefing regional journalists, said the West Papuans are seeking support for the effort to get the "Act of Free Choice" reviewed.

Mr. Rumakiek told journalists attending the AusAID Pacific Media Initiative/Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)/Forum Secretariat-organized program on covering the Forum: "It is the Act of No Choice."

The West Papuans say only a small group of men who were intimidated by the Indonesian military were allowed to take part in the referendum.

Since the Indonesians took control they have exploited resources, encouraged mass migration of Indonesian Muslims from other islands, and suppressed Papuan independence, Papuans say.

Mr. Rumakiek said thousands have already died in West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian forces.

He said the same elements who tried to stop East Timorese independence are now emerging in West Papua.

He said unless something is done there is going to be similar bloodshed in West Papua.

Mr. Rumakiek pointed out that when the Act of Free Choice took place Papua New Guinea was still under Australian rule.

Pacific Island countries that have indicated support for West Papua include Vanuatu, Nauru and Tuvalu, Mr. Rumakiek said.

The Indonesian government was represented at the post-Forum dialogue meetings held in Nadi, west of Suva. Indonesia also is about to open an embassy in Suva.

West Papua was a Dutch colony, like Indonesia. 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 by Indonesia following the controversial 1969 referendum after the Dutch departed.

The current Indonesian government recently granted West Papua more autonomy, allowed its name to be changed from Irian Jaya to Papua and gave the province a greater share of revenue from provincial resources.

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