Wednesday, March 29, 2006

West Papua: Cry Freedom, Plea to the World

The Age's Indonesia correspondent, Mark Forbes, gained rare access to the province of West Papua, a new powderkeg on Australia's doorstep. Read Mark's full article. An excerpt follows:

"Indonesia is paranoid at the prospect of a repeat of East Timor's 2002 succession and had banned Western journalists from the province for nearly two years, until The Age was granted permission to visit Jayapura and Timika last week. In West Papua, the gap between local aspirations and Jakarta's expectations is widening, inviting the spectre of bloodier conflict.

On Timika's outskirts, the warriors lead the way to a jungle clearing. Here the leading activist behind the clashes in Timika and Jayapura, Jefri Pagawak, vows the protests and the violence will continue unless Freeport's contract is renegotiated. Activists' demands include that it stop polluting and that it redirect more of its revenues to Papuans. Some want it closed altogether.

The focus may be the world's largest gold mine, which tips more than $1 billion a year into the national coffers, but Mr Pagawak argues Freeport's contract with Indonesia was signed in 1967, two years before Indonesia formally took over Papua from the Dutch and an interim United Nations administration. The mine's riches drove the US to collude to "trap Papua into Indonesia", he says.

"Since Papua was integrated into Indonesia, military and the police treated Papuans badly and we are traumatised. We will not step back until the Government can think democratically. We will move forward even stronger if the Government does not open doors of dialogue. We will stage protests, if the Government acts brutally the people, in self-defence, will attack back."

Tensions rising: West Papua Dani tribesmen say that protests and violence will continue unless the contract with the US-owned Freeport mine is renegotiated.

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