May 20, 2006

Indonesia pressing for Australian support on Papua

By Jason Szep

MEDFORD, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Australia's leader
should sign a document recognizing Jakarta's rule over West
Papua province to resolve a dispute over Canberra's decision to
grant 42 Papuans asylum, a senior Indonesia official said on

Leaders of Australia and Indonesia, facing their most
serious disruption of relations since bloodshed over East Timor
independence in 1999, plan to meet soon to discuss the dispute,
which caused Jakarta to recall its ambassador.

Indonesia says Australia's decision to grant refugee status
to the Papuans in March gave support to Papua's independence
movement. But differences over the issue were narrowing between
Jakarta and Canberra, said Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.

He said Indonesia's ambassador to Australia should return
before Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono meet, though he declined to
say when and where the talks would be held.

"The sooner the better," he said.

Papuan independence activists have campaigned for more than
30 years to split from Indonesia, while a low-level rebellion
has simmered and human rights groups accuse Indonesia of
widespread abuses there.

The 42 Papuans who sought asylum said they feared becoming
victims of genocide, though Jakarta denies those charges. The
row has sparked protests near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta
and calls for an Indonesian boycott of Australian goods.

Wirajuda said Australia and Indonesia had been discussing a
new security pact that would replace one torn up amid the
bloody turmoil of East Timor seven years ago and formalize ties
that had been steadily warming before the impasse.

The new pact has been expected to guarantee Australia will
not interfere in Indonesian affairs, a move aimed at reassuring
the mainly Muslim but officially secular archipelago that
Australia will not support provincial independence movements.

Wirajuda said a draft security framework was being worked
on to include a clause expressing Australia's commitment to
Indonesian territorial integrity. Howard has recently said he
supported Indonesian sovereignty over Papua.

"To put it in as a clause in the new agreement would be
better in many ways," he told Reuters in an interview in
Massachusetts, where he spoke to graduating students at the
Fletcher School at Tufts University.

The last security deal was ripped up when Australia led a
U.N.-backed force into East Timor to quell violence by
pro-Jakarta militias after a 1999 vote for independence.

Wirajuda met Australian counterpart Alexander Downer on
Monday to discuss the matter. Afterward, Downer stopped short
of saying bilateral relations were back on track.