Separatists see Australia as escape route from Papua: Experts

Jakarta Post
6 April 2006

CANBERRA (AP): Papuan separatists now see Australia as a way out of their province and also a route to gain international attention for their cause, experts said Thursday.

Canberra badly damaged its brittle relationship with Jakarta last month when it accepted the refugee claims of 42 Papuans who made the short but treacherous journey to northern Australia in dugout canoes and brandished their independence flag which isoutlawed in Indonesia.

The Papuans, who claim the Indonesian military is carrying out human rights abuses in the province, became the focus for street protests in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth against Jakarta's controlof the territory.

In the past, thousands of Papuans have escaped from Indonesian rule by crossing into Papua New Guinea, an impoverished independent nation that shares the island of New Guinea with the province of Papua.

Greg Fealy, an Australian National University expert on Indonesian politics, said Canberra's refugee decision - and the furor it created - now made Australia an attractive destination for activists.

"Until recently, very few people had an interest in coming here because it's hazardous and what would be achieved?" Fealy said. "Now people are seeing the PR potential."

Victoria University expert on Papua, Richard Chauvel, agreed that the Papuans' voyage did have an international impact, but he was skeptical that a stream of secessionists would follow.

"I would imagine people in Papua are saying to themselves: This is a pretty effective strategy," Chauvel said. "They got so much more international attention because the boat people landed in Australia than they get going across the border to Papua NewGuinea," he added.

But Chauvel said the fact that Papuan asylum seekers had not reached Australia since the 1980s underscored the difficulties in making such a voyage across waters known for fickle currents andtreacherous tropical weather.

He noted reports that both Indonesia and Australia intend to step up naval surveillance of the waters that separate them."I think the political motive to come to Australia is there," Chauvel said. "The logistics of doing so will become much more difficult." (**)


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