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by Ben Bohane, Editor Pacific Weekly Review

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Nov. 8, 2002 - Pacific Weekly Review/PINA Nius Online)---An Indonesian diplomat who tried to persuade the Vanuatu government against supporting the West Papuan independence movement left without success, a Vanuatu Foreign Affairs Department statement said.

Vanuatu's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Serge Vohor met with Imron Cotan, deputy chief of mission to the Indonesian embassy in Australia.

Vohor said that while Vanuatu hopes to maintain a friendly and cooperative relationship with Indonesia, it will continue to support the West Papuan people's struggle for independence.

The issue has bipartisan support within Vanuatu and is not likely to change, he said. "We believe, as Melanesians, that the whole island of New Guinea was once our ancestral homeland.

"Therefore we feel it is only right that we support our brothers and sisters from West Papua in their legitimate claim to become independent."

He blamed the United Nations for "mishandling" the West Papuan case in the 1960s. He said he was willing to lead a delegation to Jakarta if President Megawati Sukarnoputri herself wished to continue a dialogue on the issue.

The West Papuan representative in Vanuatu, Andy Ayamiseba, thanked the Vanuatu government "for its maturity and for sticking to its principles". He said the Indonesian diplomat left "empty handed".

The Australian High Commissioner in Port Vila, Steve Waters, said of the recent events: "Australia has made it clear that we recognize Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. But Vanuatu is a sovereign nation and any decision it takes on this issue is up to the Vanuatu government."

Resource-rich West Papua borders independent Papua New Guinea. It was a Dutch colony, like Indonesia.

The Dutch and the West Papuans said it was not part of the Dutch East Indies, which became independent Indonesia. The Indonesians said it was and should be become part of Indonesia.

When in the 1960s the Dutch began moves to give West Papua its own independence, Indonesia sent its forces into West Papua. The Dutch withdrew after heavy pressure from the Americans, who wanted Indonesian support in the Cold War.

Indonesia officially took over after a controversial so-called "Act of Free Choice" supported by the United Nations.

West Papuans say this was a "sham". They say only a small number of men were allowed to take part and they were intimidated by the Indonesian military.

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