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After East Timor, US watching developments in Papua closely?

Updated On: Feb 21, 2006

Indonesians are not keen to be on the international spotlight for the infighting going on in Papua. 

While there is a small group of separatists in Papua agitating for independence, it does appear that situation in Papua is not similar to Aceh or East Timor.  Most locals in Papua do not support independence, but only wanted more political space for instance to elect their governor directly, but at the same time wanted the central Indonesian government to address urgently issues of development to close the income gap, and prevent any human rights abuses. They also opposed the recent moves by the Indonesian government to partition Papua into two provinces the Papua province and a West Irian Jaya province.  The relevant players within Papua will be meeting soon with the central government to iron our some of the differences.

Meanwhile, the US is said to be watching closely the developments, accepting for now that fact that Papua is part of Indonesia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying that Indonesia “need to be sensitive to” and ensure “protection of minorities within Indonesia and for significant autonomy for those populations."

She was pressed for this answer by Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Samoa's nonvoting delegate to Congress and a frequent critic of the Indonesian regime, accusing the latter of ignoring West Papua's suffering. His arguments are backed up by human rights groups which highlighted the deaths of 100,000 people connected with Indonesian troops in the territory. Rice assured the Congress that "the issue is not off of our radar screen, even though we may not agree on the same solution."

Such criticisms from delegates to the Congress comes at a sensitive time as Indonesia tries to patch up relations with another former breakaway province annexed by the Indonesian military in 1975. Indonesia was displeased with the Timorese President, Xanana Gusmao for attracting high levels of international attention by presenting a highly charged report detailing the 180 000 death resulting from Indonesia’s brutal 24 year occupation of East Timor by personally passing the report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in person. The report is particularly damaging to Indonesia’s international standing, unfortunate at a time when Indonesia is trying to raise its international profile in diplomacy. The report stated that the military used starvation and sexual violence as weapons to control the territory and accounts of soldiers of using napalm and chemical weapons to poison food and drinking water.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has met President Xanana Gusmao to try to patch up relations and sort out history between the two countries. Both have established their own commission on truth and friendship to look into history. However, critics have already pointed out that the Indonesian truth commission does not meet international human rights standards. In the meantime, the occupation is a simmering issue amongst East Timorese who want to see justice done. Many Indonesians still believe that the former 27th province of East Timor was taken away from them by force through an international conspiracy. They do not want to see a prosecution of Indonesians or an international tribunal for this issue.

President Yudhoyono in his usual balanced approach tried to downplay Indonesia’s unhappiness with the UN prominence by saying publicly that he understood it was a domestic matter for East TimorJakarta had previously announced that it would sever ties with East Timor for presenting the report but the Indonesian president mitigated this by saying that he now understood that East Timor was still committed to the reconciliation process. "The important thing for me is that we keep holding on to our understanding and commitment that the issues must be resolved in a fair, truthful and reconciliatory way, and without sacrificing the need and hope of the two nations for a better relationship in the future," Yudhoyono stated. The two countries also bypassed sensitive issues to talk about various border-related issues, including on traditional border crossings and traditional markets.

Sources:

* Rice says West Papua is part of Indonesia but remains on U.S. 'radar screen' (The Nation, Feb 19)

*Council comes out against partition of Papua for West Irian Jaya province (JP, Feb 18)

IndonesiaE Timor discuss report (BBC, Feb 17)

* SBY, Xanana reach understanding (JP, Feb 18)