Howard says Australia should not encourage Papuan independence

Jakarta Post
7 April 2006

CANBERRA (AP): Indonesia's respect for human rights in its Papua province has improved and Australia should not encourage the region's independence, the Australian prime minister said, despite his country's acceptance of refugees from the province.

Prime Minister John Howard sought to defuse an increasingly bitter row with Indonesia over his government's decision to grant visas last month to 42 Papuan asylum seekers who claimed the Indonesian military was carrying out genocide in their province.

Indonesia was furious over the move, recalling its ambassador, and is now demanding that it be allowed to review any further refugee claims by Papuans who flee to Australia, saying it would make sense to allow Jakarta to help verify those claims.

Howard warned Friday that the human rights situation would likely worsen in Papua if it became independent as part of the fragmentation of the Indonesia, and said he had no direct knowledge of human rights abuses in the province.

"I do know there has been a significant improvement," Howard told Melbourne radio 3AW. "Whether it is still satisfactory or not, it's difficult for me to make a judgment," he added.

Howard said breaking up Indonesia would lead to more turmoil and human rights abuses.

"I do not think it serves anybody's interests for us to encourage in any way the fragmentation of Indonesia," Howard said.

"Indonesia is an infinitely better, freer, more democratic country now than it's been at any time since it was founded in 1946 and their current president is the best president they've had and he offers the best hope for a stable, prosperous future,"he added.

Indonesia declared its independence on Aug. 17, 1945 from the Dutch colonial power. The Dutch, however, kept administering West Papua until late 1960s.

Australia's immigration department accepted the refugee claims of 42 Papuans who arrived by dugout canoe in January and rejected the claim of a 43rd, a man who remains in immigration detention.

"I know it's been an unsatisfactory outcome but it should not be seen as other than the working out of our processes," Howard said. "And not some diplomatic strike against Indonesia, not some expression of disapproval of Indonesia but an adjudication inrelation to the individual cases of 43 people."

An embassy spokesman said Friday Jakarta wants the opportunity to verify the claims of any future Papuan asylum seekers.

"We thought as partners and also as close neighbors that we have been omitted in the process of verifying the claims of the Papuan asylum seekers," embassy second secretary Dino Kusnadi told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Friday.

"What we are requesting ... is that when serious claims about Indonesians are made ... that we are also asked to verify those claims," he said. "You would think that if these allegations are aimed at Indonesia, Indonesia would be involved in trying toverify the issues."

Kusnadi, embassy spokesman while Ambassador Hamzah Thayeb remains indefinitely in Jakarta, said Indonesia appreciated Howard's comments against the secessionist movement, but added that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appreciatesactions more than words. (***)


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