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Rebel Says Australian Stance A Terrible Mistake

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by Mark Forbes

Leaders of the West Papuan independence movement yesterday attacked Australia's stance over the troubled Indonesian province, saying it was offensive and a terrible mistake.

Issuing a plea for peace to Indonesia and the United Nations, a key member of the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council, Mr Franzalbert Joku, said the province was deteriorating into another East Timor.

His plea in Melbourne came as arrests and violence continue in West Papua, also known as Irian Jaya.

Five more members of the council, including two priests, have been detained in the highland town of Wamena, it was announced yesterday.

Mr Joku said the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, and the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, were making a terrible mistake by wishing the Papuan issue would "blow away".

It was "deeply offensive" to assert the West Papuan people would be condemned to political slavery.

The New Zealand Foreign Minister held talks with Mr Joku last week, but Mr Downer had refused to meet him, he said.

Mr Downer and Mr Howard were in charge of a policy "largely designed to appease their friends and military leaders in Indonesia".

Mr Joku's comments come despite a call by Mr Downer yesterday for Indonesia to negotiate a settlement over West Papua.

The council called for the release of Papuans detained by Indonesian police and for UN intervention.

The UN should oversee negotiations with Indonesia and send peacekeeping troops if necessary, Mr Joku said.

Arrests have continued since October, when 30 people were killed in riots after police forced down the Morning Star flag, the Papuan symbol of independence.

This month two policemen and a public servant were killed when independence supporters attacked a police station.

The arrests have continued despite a call by President Abdurrahman Wahid for the release of council members, who advocate a non-violent push for independence.

Rebels in Indonesia's Aceh province warned Mr Wahid yesterday that his opponents in Jakarta might try to assassinate him during his visit to the territory next week.

Free Aceh Movement (GAM) spokesman, Amni Marzuki, said:

"The conflict between [Wahid] and the political elite in Jakarta has intensified and I fear that some of the groups there may do something against him, for example trying to assassinate him and later blaming it on the GAM.

"We think snipers may infiltrate the security forces and shoot him."


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