VANUATU CONSIDERS ALLOWING PAPUAN EMBASSY

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (RNZI, Feb. 3) - Vanuatu has indicated that it will allow Papuan separatists to open an embassy in Port Vila despite threats from Indonesia that it will sever diplomatic ties.

Government spokesman Daniel Bangtor, says the Papuan request is in line with Vanuatu’s longstanding support to territories seeking independence

He says Vanuatu’s support goes back before its own independence in 1980.

Bangtor says as an independent country, Vanuatu has right to allow Papuans to open an embassy in Port Vila.

"It’s a gesture of support towards the West Papuans and to comply with our foreign supply to support territories still struggling to gain their independence. We can understand the Indonesian government is concerned about its sovereignty but likewise, as a sovereign state, the Vanuatu government must be concerned about its sovereign power to make its own decision," said Bangtor.

He said there is still room for dialogue on the Papuan embassy issue.

Bangtor was unwilling to comment on Vanuatu being party to an agreement with other Pacific Island Forum members to recognize Indonesia’s sovereignty over Papua.

The international spokesman for the Papuan separatists, John Ondawame, says Indonesia has no business interfering in any decision by Vanuatu to allow his movement to open an office in the country.

Ondawame says Indonesia will be growing anxious because the West Papua issue is no longer an isolated one but an international one.

"A government, like Indonesia, to interfere in the internal policy of Vanuatu is completely wrong. Indonesia must withdraw its statement and allow the Papuans to establish their own office in Vanuatu to inform the people about the truth of the violation of the environment and human rights back to 1969 during the so-called Act of Free Choice," said Ondawame.

Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea authorities say any Papuan rebels remaining on PNG soil will be arrested after the deadline for them to return to the Indonesian province of Papua lapsed this week.

OPM rebels hiding out near the border with Papua were given 21 days until last Wednesday to move off PNG soil and dismantle their training camps.

The acting provincial administrator in Sandaun, Joseph Sungi, says reports he’s received indicate the rebels have complied with the deadline.

Sungi says police are patrolling the province to confirm the rebels have left, and any who remain will face swift action under PNG laws.

"We’re concerned about the illegal activities by the rebels... they will apprehended and brought to court and charged and then the provincial office will decide what to do with them."

February 3, 2003

Radio New Zealand International: www.rnzi.com

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