Chronology Of Dumber, Dirtier Diversionary Cartoon War
April, 04 2006 @ 03:41 pm

Following is the chronology of events that transformed a Papuan human rights/refugee issue into a ridiculous spat between Indonesia and Australia over cartoons of coital canines.

January 13, 2006
A group of 43 Papuans, mostly pro-independence activists and their families, sets sail in a 25-meter traditional dugout canoe, fitted with an outboard motor, from the port city of Merauke for the 425-kilometer voyage to Australia to seek asylum. The group comprises 30 men, 6 women and 7 children. The rickety boat flies an outlawed West Papuan Morning Star flag and displays a banner accusing the Indonesian military of conducting genocide against Papuans. The banner states: "Save West Papua people soul from genocide intimidation and terrorist from military government of Indonesian. Also we West Papuan need freedom peace love and justice in our home land."

The most prominent of the 43 Papuans is pro-independence activist Herman Wainggai, who has served time in jail for treason. His uncle Tom Wainggai, a leading academic and independence activist, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for organizing a flag raising event in 1988 and died in Jakarta’s Cipinang prison in 1996, prompting allegations he was poisoned or denied proper treatment.

Louise Byrne, convener of the Australia-West Papua Association (AWPA), which promotes self-determination for Papuans, receives a phone call from Merauke informing her that a boat-load of independence activists are leaving for Australia to seek asylum and should arrive within a day .

January 18
After a difficult journey, the Papuans arrive undetected at Janey Creek, north of the Mapoon Aboriginal community on western Cape York peninsula.

The AWPA alerts Australian authorities that the boat is at least three days overdue and may be lost at sea. A search by the coastguard finds the Papuans at the remote beach at about 2pm.

January 19
The Papuans are taken to a camp ground in nearby Weipa for health checks and processing.

January 20
The Papuans are loaded onto a Hercules C-130 plane for the seven-hour flight to Christmas Island, where most are held in a recently established detention center while their asylum request is assessed. Some are allowed to live among the community. Rights groups complain the move is unnecessary, a waste of money (about A$700,000) and might be used as a springboard to send the Papuans back to Indonesia.

January 20
The Australian newspaper runs an editorial extolling East Timor’s failure to bring Indonesian generals to justice for crimes against humanity as a "pragmatic response". The editorial then warns that the Australian government should not accept the Papuan asylum seekers as freedom fighters while recognizing Indonesian sovereignty over Papua. "Certainly supporters of the West Papuans who landed on Cape York on Wednesday will want Australia to accept them as refugees. And so we should – if they meet the criteria that applies to all asylum-seekers. But there is no case for the Australian Government sticking its bib into Indonesia's business and accepting them as freedom fighters while we accept its long-established sovereignty over West Papua. It is never wise to jeopardize international relations – especially between neighbors – with single-issue stances. East Timor's determination to get on with Indonesia makes the point. It is often best to acknowledge past wrongs, while leaving them unavenged."

January 22
There are concerns that two of the Papuans are suffering tuberculosis. Yunus Wainggai and his daughter Anika are flown 2,600 kilometers from Christmas Island to Perth, Western Australia, at a cost of A$73,000. Both were later declared free of active tuberculosis, although Yunus was diagnosed with a non-contagious form of the disease.

January 27
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono telephones Australian Prime Minister John Howard to request the Papuans be sent home. He personally guarantees that they will not face harm or imprisonment if returned.

State news agency Antara later quotes Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda as saying Yudhoyono told Howard that Jakarta's stance was in line with the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, which states that refugee status can be awarded to people who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of nationality due to their race/religion/political opinion. Yudhoyono insists the Papuans are not under threat of persecution, so there is no reason for Australia to grant the asylum request.

Wirajuda says Howard reiterated his support for Indonesian sovereignty over Papua and vouched the handling of the matter would not harm bilateral ties. He says Howard "promised to have close communication both at the high level, ministerial and official levels to handle the case without disturbing our relations".

January 28
The pro-independence West Papua New Guinea National Congress says Yudhoyono's promise that no harm will come to the Papuans if they are returned cannot be trusted because the former general has a poor track record on human rights. "The bottom line is that Bambang Yudhoyono cannot be trusted. He promised to get to the bottom of the Munir murder, but only served up Pollycarpus and left BIN alone, even though there is overwhelming evidence of BIN involvement. He has scapegoated several Papuans (and the OPM) for the Timika shootings, even though there is overwhelming evidence of Indonesian Military involvement. These shootings were used to extort payments from Freeport."

January 30
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes a senior immigration source as saying the 43 asylum seekers have a "very strong case" to be granted refugee status. "Some of what has come out of the interviews has been absolutely heart-wrenching," the source said. The testimony apparently included beatings while in prison and attacks on villages and livestock in retaliation for the Papuans' agitating for independence.

February 3
Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb, says there's no reason for the Papuans to seek asylum because they are not criminals and will not face arrest if sent home. He warns that ties could be jeopardized if they are granted refugee status. He denies Herman Wainggai's assertion that the Indonesian military still treats indigenous Papuans like animals. "We have changed fundamentally within ourselves," says the ambassador.

February 6
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono admits that some Indonesian soldiers had raped and tortured Papuans, but claims the Australian government has been "persuaded" that the asylum seekers should be returned. The Age daily quotes Sudarsono as saying Indonesian leaders had "persuaded the Prime Minister of Australia that they should be returned to us as soon as possible, that there will be no repression or reprisal against these citizens of Indonesia". He says claims of systematic human rights abuses to counter Papuan independence sentiments were unfair. "I grant that there have been incidents of some brutality and torture and rape involving some of our troops, but there has been a tendency to blanket all of this into a notion that all of these efforts are systematic and institutional."

March 23
The Australian Immigration Ministry grants temporary visas to 42 of the asylum seekers. The group is apparently planning to settle in the southern city of Melbourne. The visa application of the 43rd person is still pending.

The Indonesian government immediately deplores the decision as hasty, unhelpful, counterproductive and warns it has "negated the spirit of bilateral cooperation". The government says the 43 Papuans made false claims and "are no more than economic migrants who seek to find a better life".

March 24
Indonesia withdraws its ambassador to Canberra and later delays signing an agreement on the handover of A$10 million in aid for bird flu from Australia. Senior legislators denounce Australia's "unfriendly action" and demand the Indonesian government consider severing diplomatic relations.

March 27
The Rakyat Merdeka tabloid publishes a front-page cartoon titled 'The Adventure of Two Dingo', depicting John Howard and his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as copulating Australian wild dingo dogs. Howard, while mounting a suitably dour-faced Downer, is saying: "I want Papua!! Alex! You coba mainkan [try to make it happen]!"

March 30
Asked by Australian reporters about the cartoon, Howard replies he has been in politics far too long be offended by a mere drawing. "In relation to the cartoons, look I have been in this game a long time. If I got offended about cartoons, golly. Give us a break."

April 1
The Weekend Australian newspaper publishes a facetious retaliatory bad-taste cartoon depicting a grinning canine version of Yudhoyono copulating with a glum Papuan man. Yudhoyono is telling the Papuan “don't take this the wrong way", while the cartoon is cheekily captioned 'No Offense Intended'.

Downer quickly issues a press release distancing the Australian government from the Yudhoyono cartoon. "From a personal perspective, I find the cartoon tasteless and offensive and see no merit of any kind in its publication," he says.

April 2
Indonesian legislators announce plans to visit Australia in the hope of overturning the decision to grant asylum to the Papuans. They also urge Yudhoyono to sue The Weekend Australian in an international court over the "defamatory cartoon". Some legislators later say the planned visit would be a waste of time and money, and that Indonesians should not take a cartoon too seriously.

April 3
Yudhoyono condemns the cartoon depicting him as a dog, saying it is "indecent and insulting... disturbing, destructive and can spark public anger". He says Indonesia-Australia relations have entered a 'difficult phase'.

April 4
Angry condemnation of the canine Yudhoyono-Papuan copulation cartoon continues, at least among politicians and other people trying to court favor with the president. Islamic students in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar to threaten to raid hotels to "sweep" any Australian tourists out of the city.

Meanwhile, Downer claims to have already resolved the problem of the cartoon: "Last weekend when I saw a cartoon in The Weekend Australian my sensitivities were - after communicating with our ambassador in Jakarta - that this could really erupt in Indonesia if we didn't find a way of handling it. We organized a Press Release, we put it out in Jakarta and that very quickly settled the dust on that issue."

Separately, Howard expresses confidence the dispute over the Papuans will not cause lasting damage to bilateral relations. "But I don't want to play it down, I do understand Indonesia's sensitivity," he says.

By: Roy Tupai | Category: Politics


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