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Pacific backs Irian Jaya autonomy, not independence
17 August 2001 (abridged)
Rodney Joyce, Aiwo, Nauru -- South Pacific island nation leaders on Friday backed Indonesian plans for autonomy in Irian Jaya rather than the independence Melanesian separatists are seeking for the restive province.
The Pacific Islands Forum leaders, holding their annual meeting on the tiny island of Nauru, also joined other international leaders in urging the United States to reverse its decision to opt out of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
Some South Pacific nations, notably Nauru and Vanuatu, have expressed sympathy for Melanesian separatists who want an independent Irian Jaya, which they call West Papua. But the leaders of the Forum, which groups Australia, New Zealand and 14 small Pacific nations including Papua New Guinea, instead supported Indonesian power-sharing proposals for the remote, but resource rich, province of two million people.
Forum chairman, Nauru President Rene Harris, told reporters the Forum wanted a peaceful resolution of differences among Irian Jaya's factions. "The Forum leaders agreed that adoption and implementation of comprehensive autonomy for the province would contribute to this outcome and welcomed the recent presentation of special autonomy proposals to Indonesia's parliament," he said. "We feel this is a problem that can be best handled by Indonesia."
Asked if Indonesia's problematic human rights record in East Timor allowed it to be trusted in Irian Jaya, Harris said: "We would hope that commonsense on Indonesia's part and the rest of the world would convince Indonesia to do the right thing."
New Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Thursday apologised to the rebellious provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh for human rights abuses, but said they would never gain independence. Indonesian officials will meet with Pacific Island officials in a dialogue session on Monday.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters there had been a change in position among some Pacific nations that had supported West Papuan separatists. "What there's been since the last Forum where it was raised by Nauru, and backed very strongly by Vanuatu, is a change of government in both those countries and that seems to have brought some change in emphasis."
Nauru, a tiny 21 square km island just south of the equator, between Australia and Hawaii, banned five West Papuan separatists from attending the Forum. Four had visas withdrawn while a fifth was turned away at the airport.