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Wahid leaves Papuan independence leaders off schedule

Agence France Presse - December 25, 2000

Jakarta – President Abdurrahman Wahid has left independence leaders in Indonesia's Irian Jaya province off the schedule of a two-day visit there which started Monday, a member of the pro-independence Papua Presidium said.

"We have had no invitation," Presidium moderator Willy Mandowen told AFP. "There are no plans for any meeting between Presidium members and Gus Dur," he said referring to the president by his nickname.

Mandowen, however, said the Presidium's deputy leader, Tom Beanal, may be included in a group of community leaders who Wahid is scheduled to hold talks with in the southern mining town of Timika on Tuesday. Beanal is chief of the Timika-based Amungme people.

The 31-member Presidium – five of whose key members have been in jail for almost four weeks on subversion charges – have been advocating dialogue and a non-violent approach to the independence struggle.

Wahid, a tolerant Muslim cleric, arrived in Irian Jaya's capital Jayapura at around 5pm Monday. He is scheduled to break the Islamic fast with the city's Muslim community before celebrating Christmas with Jayapura's majority Christians.

Mandowen said he believed Wahid was visiting Irian Jaya to "bring back his commitment to developing democracy and human rights in Papua."

Papua is the locally-preferred name for Irian Jaya, Indonesia's easternmost province, which lies on the western half of New Guinea island.

Exploitation by Jakarta of its vast mineral, oil and timber resources, and brutal military tactics, has bred separatist sentiments over the past 30 years.

In a visit to the province 12 months ago Wahid promised dialogue with separatist leaders, agreeing to change the official name to Papua and allowed the flying of the separatist Morning Star flag.

But Wahid's tolerant approach has been overruled by Jakarta. The name change has been rejected, independence leaders jailed and a new ban imposed on the flag – moves which have been brutally enforced by the police. The heightened crackdown by Jakarta has been met with a rise in violence by extreme separatists in recent months.

Mandowen said he had little hope that Wahid's visit would solve any of Papua's problems. "If that's his concept, I don't think he will succeed because the central government still has no coherent steps, it lacks co-ordination, and it's wrought with substantial problems," he said. "They don't even know how and when to have dialogue."

Wahid has twice said he wants the five jailed Presidium members released, according to two Papuan community leaders, but police and senior ministers have rejected his request. The detainees, including Presidium chief Theys Eluay, have since said they will refuse any premature release, insisting they want their names cleared of subversion charges.

Mandowen said he hoped during his visit that Wahid would see "how the Papuan people are yearning for peace." "And that despite the loss of more than 20 Papuans' lives over the flag, they still want to make peaceful dialogue."

It was hoped Wahid's trip would open up a new opportunity for fairer and more democratic dialogue, Mandowen said, adding that the president should also push for human rights violations, including the killing of people for raising a flag, to be tried.