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Church leaders call for Timor style ballot to end Irian stife

Agence France Presse - October 22, 2000

Melbourne – Church leaders from Australia and Irian Jaya called here Friday for an East Timor-style independence ballot to stop escalating violence in the troubled Indonesian province.

Melbourne Anglican Bishop Hilton Deakin and Pastor Martin Luther Wanma of Irian Jaya made the call as Indonesia put off a deadline for nationalists in the province to lower their separatist flags.

Indonesian authorities had given separatists in the remote, resource-rich province, known to its nationalists as West Papua, until Friday to take down their Morning Star flag.

Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid had previously decreed that the flag could be flown next to, but lower than, the red and white Indonesian flag.

Deakin called for an end to the violent clashes between Indonesian security forces and the separatists as a "first step". "But the West Papuan people as a whole are seeking independence from the Indonesian republic," he said. "There will eventually need to be a referendum because the referendum is the normal, universally accepted vehicle for a people expressing their will."

Pastor Wanma said flag-raising ceremonies across the province were a symbol of separatists' desire for independence. The independence leaders would not accept offers of autonomy or federation within the Indonesian republic, he said. "Our flag is a part of Papua," he said.

"We hope the end of our struggle must be a referendum. It's a good solution." Wanma is in Australia for the first time to attend an Asia Pacific regional conference of religious leaders.

Doctor Wan Azizah, wife of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and deposed former Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry are also scheduled to attend the conference.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said this month that Australia believed Irian Jaya should remain part of Indonesia and urged Indonesia to adopt restraint in dealing with it.