Subject: AP: Support for W Papuan separatism in Congress clashes with U.S. foreign policy

Support for West Papuan separatism in Congress clashes with U.S. foreign policy

08/10/2005 08:09:14 PM EDT

AP WorldStream English (all)

WASHINGTON_As a peace deal nears in a 29-year war in Aceh, U.S. lawmakers are seeking support for an independence movement in another Indonesian province: West Papua, also the site of a long-simmering rebellion.

Legislation recently approved by the House of Representatives calls for the United States to review its human rights policy toward the province, where Indonesian security forces have murdered, tortured and raped local separatists.

Nearly 40 lawmakers have also asked the United Nations to allow West Papua to vote on whether to remain a part of Indonesia.

They face stiff opposition, both from the administration of President George W. Bush and from Indonesia. The world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia has become a key U.S. ally in fighting terrorism, and the administration is wary of undermining the vast archipelago's stability or damaging recently improved relations.

Some lawmakers say that has prompted the United States to ignore atrocities against natives of the primitive, though resource-rich, western half of New Guinea island.

"We're saying we're not interested in having human rights in West Papua because ... we need the government in the war on terror," said the legislation's co-sponsor, Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Asia subcommittee and American Samoa's nonvoting delegate to Congress.

Indonesia bristles at what it sees as congressional meddling during a transition to democracy complicated by more than 30 years of brutal dictatorship. It wasn't until last year that the country held its first direct presidential election.

"We do not accept any outside intervention regarding Indonesia's territorial integrity," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters July 29, shortly after the legislation's passage. "The existence of Papua within the Republic of Indonesia is final."

The same day, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "The United States does not support or condone any efforts to promote the secession of Papua from ... Indonesia."

Even without support from Jakarta and Washington, advocates for independence are encouraged by the legislation. For the people of West Papua, having U.S. lawmakers formally acknowledge their suffering "is a miracle for the movement," said Octovianus Mote, an exiled Papuan activist. "They feel, for the first time, that there are people watching, that we are not alone. That's really empowering."

The provisions on West Papua were included in a House bill authorizing next year's State Department programs. Before becoming law, the legislation must be approved by the Senate, where prospects are uncertain, and then be signed by Bush.

The bill calls for State Department reviews of U.S. efforts to promote human rights in Papua and Aceh, and of a unanimous vote in 1969 by 1,022 hand-picked Papuan elders to become part of Indonesia. Faleomavaega calls the vote "a sham, conducted at the point of a gun."

For Indonesian officials, however, the question of West Papuan independence is closed. They believe the province had a chance at self determination in 1969 _ and chose Indonesia.

"It's difficult for the Indonesian government to move on when they cling to a lie," said John Saltford, a historian who has written a book on the vote. "There is an understanding by many Papuans that they were denied their right to self determination."

The State Department, in its most recent human rights report, said Indonesian security forces have killed and tortured supporters of Papuan independence _ the Free Papua Movement. The rebel group, though disorganized and often ineffective, is widely supported in West Papua and by outside humanitarian agencies.

Rights groups maintain that about 100,000 people _ one-sixth of the 1969 population _ have died as a result of military action or other atrocities carried out by Indonesian troops. In 2001, special forces murdered Theys Eluay, West Papua's leading political figure.

But the State Department criticism over rights abuses marks an exception to recently warming U.S.-Indonesian relations. In February, the department approved the reestablishment of a coveted military training program that had originally been yanked in 1992, following a massacre of 300 civilian protesters in Dili, East Timor.

In May, Yudhoyono visited Bush in the White House. And the United State recently congratulated Indonesia for settling a bloody war with Aceh rebels. The deal, due to take effect Monday, calls for the rebels to give up demands for independence in return for some form of political representation in Aceh.

Some hope for resolving the West Papua dispute rests with a 2001 Indonesian law meant to give the province "special autonomy" in running its government and managing the abundant oil, gold, copper and timber resources found on the island of New Guinea. West Papua shares the island, which is the world's second largest, with the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

The State Department says Yudhoyono has indicated that he intends to implement the law, which was largely ignored by his predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Some analysts believe the House legislation, even if it doesn't become law, could soften Jakarta's attitudes about the province by focusing the world's attention there.

"At first, the parliamentarians ask: `Who does the United States think it is to tell us Papua should be independent?'" said R. William Liddle, a specialist in Indonesian politics at Ohio State University. "But the second reaction is, `We need to get our act together and treat Papua better.'"

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