By Sara Webb
JAKARTA, Oct 1 (Reuters) – A group of pro-independence Papuans
said it has asked Indonesia’s government to meet to discuss greater
democracy and self-determination as well as the withdrawal of troops
from the troubled, resource-rich region.
A resolution of the decades-long conflict in Papua, one of
Indonesia’s most backward regions, could pave the way for Papuans to
form political parties and have greater say over resources that
include vast forests and huge copper and gold deposits.
The West Papua Coalition for National Liberation (WPCNL), an
umbrella organisation which includes the Free Papua Movement (OPM),
said on Monday it had written to Indonesia’s president, and asked for
negotiations with the government to be supervised by an
internationally recognised mediator.
“The pro-independence groups demand a peace dialogue with
Indonesia with third-party mediators, as that will guarantee
transparency,” Paula Makabori, a member of the group, told Reuters.
She said that Finland, which helped broker a peace agreement
between Indonesia’s government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in
Aceh in 2005, was willing to mediate between predominantly Christian
Papua and the government of the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to
end decades of conflict in Papua and speed up development but critics
say little has been achieved under the 2001 special autonomy agreement
for Papua.
Since former President Suharto’s resignation in 1998, Indonesia
has been transformed from a dictatorship to a vibrant democracy and
has settled two of its three main conflicts, agreeing to East Timor’s
independence and Aceh’s greater autonomy.
But its role in Papua, which has a population of just over 2
million people, continues to attract widespread international
criticism, with human rights groups reporting abuses by the military.
“A deal means Indonesia would have to pull out the military,
allow genuine democracy, international human rights monitors, an
economic redistribution, and the creation of political parties,” said
Damien Kingsbury, an associate professor at Australia’s Deakin
University, who advised on the Aceh peace talks.
“Papua would be looking at creating a more democratic political
environment in keeping with Indonesia’s own democratisation. That
could contribute to a more secure investment climate for Papua with
the support of local Papuans.”
A peace agreement and increased autonomy could change how
investors such as Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. — whose
Grasberg mine in Papua is one of the largest copper and gold mines in
the world — negotiate deals in future, Kingsbury said.
Freeport paid a total of $1.6 billion in royalties, tax and
dividends in 2006 to the Indonesian government, and is the single
biggest foreign taxpayer in the country.
Papua, which occupies the western half of New Guinea island, was
under Dutch colonial rule until 1963 when Indonesia took over. Jakarta
formalised its rule in 1969 in a vote by community leaders which was
widely criticised.
“There were reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and
ill-treatment, excessive use of force during demonstrations and
harassment of human rights defenders” in Papua, Amnesty International
said in its 2007 report.
In February, Human Rights Watch said “a low-level armed
separatist insurgency in the province has resulted in a large military
presence and a climate of mutual suspicion and fear”.
((Editing by Sugita Katyal; sara.webb@reuters.com; Reuters Messaging
sara.webb.reuters.com@reuters.net; tel +6221 384 6364 x 901))

Sara Webb



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