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Irian Jaya wants self-determination: church

Australian Associated Press - February 23, 1999 (abridged)

Canberra – Irian Jaya's expectations of self determination had been raised by a softening of Indonesia's stance on East Timor, a leading church official said today.

Executive member of the World Council of Churches, Clement John, said he had perceived a definite change in expectation in a recent trip to Irian Jaya.

Asked if the East Timor situation had increased hopes of a similar change for Irian Jaya he said: "Very much so, definitely".

"The expectations have really [increased] among the people that the same would apply to Irian Jaya," he told SBS radio.

A cross section of people he had met during his visit had wanted self-determination.

"The reason behind that is that people feel they have been exploited and abused by Indonesia.

"They feel they have been discriminated against and therefore the only way out of that for them is the right of self-determination."

Exploitation of Irian Jaya had been going on for years as it was rich in resources. "They have benefited very little and most of the profits have gone to other parts of Indonesia, " he said.

The World Council of Churches delegation had heard of the detention of people and of beatings by security forces, he said. "We also heard stories about innocent civilians being injured as a result of violations by the army," he said.

The council was calling for a national dialogue between Irian Jaya and Indonesia, which was supposed to have been held last year.

"We have recommended the special dialogue should go ahead because this provides a peaceful avenue for resolution to finding a solution to the demands of the people of Irian Jaya," he said. "They need to be heard."