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Papuan woman 'forced' to demand daughter's return

ABC Lateline - May 11, 2006

Reporter: Steve Marshall

Tony Jones: Lateline can reveal disturbing claims tonight by a Papuan woman who says she was forced by Indonesian intelligence officers to make a public statement – or be killed.

When a boatload of Papuan asylum seekers arrived in Australian territory in January, among them was a little girl called Anike Wainggai. Not long after, the girl's mother Siti Wainggai appeared on Indonesian TV, claiming her daughter had been taken to Australia against her will and demanded she be returned to the Indonesian province of Papua.

Soon after making this statement, Siti Wainggai disappeared and hasn't been heard of – until now. The ABC's Papua New Guinea correspondent Steve Marshall has Siti Wainggai's exclusive story.

Steve Marshall, reporter: Siti Wainggai believes her life is in danger. The Indonesian military, she claims, wants her to shut her up – permanently.

Siti Wainggai, Papuan asylum seeker (translation): I have been followed by certain people who have been paid to carry out the plan to kill me, and I was forced to do certain things they wanted me to do.

Steve Marshall: When Siti Wainggai's estranged husband Yunus Wainggai and her daughter Anike fled by boat to Australia last January seeking refugee status, Ms Wainggai says she was summoned to the Papuan capital of Jayapura.

Indonesian intelligence officers wanted a quiet word. She says the intelligence officers forced her to sign a prepared statement demanding the return of her daughter and then coerced her into acting out a tearful plea in front of the Provincial Governor.

Mrs Wainggai, what do you think would have happened to you had you refused to make these statements?

Siti Wainggai: They said if I refuse, certainly I will be killed.

Steve Marshall: Siti Wainggai says she was then forced to repeat the performance on Indonesian television. The Indonesian Government seized on Ms Wanggai's initial statement and threatened court action in Australia to have the little girl returned to her mother.

But bizarrely, there was never any question of custody. Ms Wainggai was living with her family at the time, as she had recently separated from her husband, and she had not seen her daughter for several months.

The intelligence officers also offered her a large cash bribe and told her that she would soon be heading to Jakarta to meet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Miss Wainggai claims the intelligence officers told her she would have to weep before the President so that her child would be sent back to her quickly.

Feigning interest in the bribe, Ms Wainggai told the officers she would take the money the next day, when they intended escorting her to Jakarta. But Ms Wainggai never kept her appointment with the Indonesian intelligence service, and promptly went into hiding. At great risk, she then escaped by boat to neighbouring Papua New Guinea, where she now lives in fear of Indonesia's retribution.

Siti Wainggai: I am afraid, because the police might see me and they will send me back to Indonesia. So I am always staying in the house all the time, because I am afraid.

Steve Marshall: And it's just not just the PNG authorities she's scared of. Ms Wainggai is sure that the Indonesians are also on her trail.

Siti Wainggai: They are sending their own people to look for me.

Steve Marshall: Despite her fears, she is convinced she has done the right thing by fleeing Indonesia.

Siti Wainggai: I am happy that I have come out of Papua and my husband and my daughter are in Australia. I don't want to return to Jayapura and Indonesia.

Steve Marshall: Instead of demanding the return of her daughter, Siti Wainggai now dreams of joining Anike in Australia. Siti Wainggai's plea appears to have come too late. A bill introduced in Parliament today would see all future boat arrivals processed in offshore detention centres and even if they are found to be refugees, they will still be resettled in a third country.

Steve Marshall, Lateline.